ESPN Mag's TECHNIQUE: Dana Vollmer

The flip turn. It's not easy. But it's what helps set Dana Vollmer apart from the competition. Ric Frazier

In the math of a sport won by hundredths of a second, two seconds is a virtual eternity. That’s about how long it takes an Olympic swimmer to execute a flip turn, one of the most technical elements in freestyle.

“You can win a race on your turns, and you can lose a race there too,” said Cal grad Dana Vollmer, 24. She’s done both. “I’m still learning, and my turns are always improving,” she said.

Too bad for her rivals in the 100 free and 200 free at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Neb., in late June. Here’s how she flips a race on its head.

1. “Five strokes out, I look at the wall and judge whether I need to make modifications to my strokes. Two strokes out, I take my final breath. I don’t breathe on my final stroke so I can keep my speed. I use my last stroke to tuck into a ball.”

2. “On that final stroke, I want my body in a straight line coming into the wall. I don’t want my core to be too loose or too rigid. I dip my head and chest, tuck into a ball and use the water to help me flip. I don’t muscle my body around.”

3. “When I come out of the flip, I turn into a basketball player taking a jump shot. I want my feet to land on the wall as if I were about to jump off the floor. Not too close together, not too far apart. I want power as I jump off the wall.”

4. “I’m still on my back and then turn over my right shoulder. Some swimmers like to be able to flip to both sides so they can see their competition. I like to stay in my own world. After I turn, I start my dolphin kicks to get to the surface.”