Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Art of the Flip Turn

Swimmers spend a lot of time perfecting their flip turn. In an out-and-out race, you can gain a lot of time with a good one. You can also lose a lot of time with a lousy one. When I swam in junior high and high school, we would spend entire swim practices working on our flip turns. Hanging out in the shallow end, flip after flip after flip.

If you’ve ever seen Olympic swimmers, you’ve probably marveled at the way they do them. Legs literally snap over their head, as they effortlessly turn and head back down the pool.

I could never do them like that. Even though I liked to pretend that I could. They were passable, possibly halfway decent. I never worried when I got to the end of the pool if I could do it or not. It was automatic. Flip and turn.

This past July—at the weekend gathering where the gauntlet was thrown down and the triathalon challenge taken up—I could barely swim across the narrow channel at my parents lake without gasping for air.

Totally. Out. Of. Shape.

With our newly minted YMCA membership and my lovely sort-of-new Speedo, I have made what I consider decent progress. I am up to 650-800 yards at a clip without stopping. Mostly freestyle with some breaststroke thrown in when I need a small breather. Definitely enough distance to feel comfortable doing a sprint triathalon.

So last week I decided it was time to brush up on the flip turn again.

When I reached the end of the pool I said a little prayer, did my half-somersault and tried to kick off the wall. Except it wasn’t there. Apparently I had started too soon and ended up too far away from the wall to actually touch it.

So I immediately stood up and pretended that I meant to do that. Like when you are walking and trip and try to make it look like you meant to start running?

Just like that.

The next time I approached the shallow-end wall, I geared up to try it again. Little prayer. This time, the timing was better and I could actually use the wall to kick off.

Except I am not sure I would call it a flip turn. It was more like a roll turn. My roly poly self s-l-o-w-l-y getting around in the form of a somersault and trying hard to right myself and start swimming again.

It definitely needs a lot of work to get the rust off. I guess the good thing is that they can only get better from here.

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