The tale of the taper

Fri Jul 22, 2016 9:29pm EDT
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By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - Boxers have the tale of the tape, Olympic swimmers have the tale of the taper.

Their path to peak performance is a tale of fortitude, stamina, sheer hard work -- and also body shaving to transform the hairy men in briefs into smooth-skinned warriors of the pool.

As Michael Phelps, the 18 times Olympic gold medalist preparing to make another splash in Rio, wrote in his 2008 book 'No Limits':

"When the facial hair goes away, that's how you know I'm getting serious'.

Tapering is the process, also common to distance athletes, where weeks and months of hard training are allowed to tail off to give the body more time to rest before the burst of competition.

With swimmers often entered for multiple distances and disciplines, no one size fits all and getting it right is no easy task. It is a time of careful calculations.

"When you taper swimmers, it's like a haircut," says Phelps's coach and mentor Bob Bowman. "You never know if it's any good until it's too late."

At the European championships in London in May, some competitors had been through national trials and were back into hard training while others were tapered for Olympic qualifiers.   Continued...

Michael Phelps of the U.S. is seen underwater as he swims in the men's 200m butterfly final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre July 31, 2012. REUTERS/Michael Dalder/File photo