7 Things That Swimmers Fear Will Go Wrong on Race Day

Photo Courtesy: JD Lasica

7 Things That Swimmers Fear Will Go Wrong on Race Day

By J.P. Mortenson, Swimming World College Intern.

After months and sometimes even years of training for what will hopefully be the fastest swimming of your life, race day has finally arrived. Race day is a nerve-wracking time for swimmers, as they are forced to perform and see the results of their grueling work, whether good or bad. However, sometimes the unexpected happens – the very things that every swimmer fears will go wrong on race day actually go wrong.

1. Missing Your Race


Photo Courtesy:

At every swim meet, you will hear the officials announce: “Lane four! Last call for lane four!” Normally hearing this is not a big deal, except for when you are supposed to be in lane four. But instead, you are sitting with your teammates. On the other side of the pool.

2. False Start

Sometimes for whatever reason, in between take your mark and the starting “BEEP,” sometimes your body just decides to twitch a little bit and jump a millisecond early. Sometimes you are lucky and if the officials are merciful, you will be able to shamefully crawl out of the pool and hop back to the blocks without getting disqualified. But more often than not when you false start, you will swim the whole race only to find out it didn’t count. When this happens, you better hope that your race isn’t the mile.

3. Slipping Off the Blocks

Photo Courtesy: Griffin Scott

Slipping off the blocks is a great way to kill your momentum right from the beginning of the race. It’s demoralizing to meticulously prepare for a race, only to have something go awry literally from the start. On the bright side, you can still recover from a bad start, and belly flops are always entertaining to watch.

4. Equipment Malfunction  


Photo Courtesy: Sarah Ehrmantraut

Every swimmer at every level of competition has dealt with equipment malfunctions. Despite only having to worry about goggles, a cap and a suit, swimmers’ equipment decides to break and stab them in the back with shocking regularity.

5. Realizing the Swimmer Next to You is Way Faster Than Their Seed Time.

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - APRIL 10: Chloe Velde during the heats session Women 100m Butterfly on day 1 of the SA National Aquatic Championships and Olympic Trials on April 10 , 2016 at the Kings Park Aquatic Center pool in Durban, South Africa. Photo Credit / Anesh Debiky/Swim SA

Photo Courtesy: Anesh Debiky/Swimming South Africa

When the heat sheets come out, most swimmers immediately check the seed times of the swimmers in the lanes next to them. Sometimes you will be placed next to a swimmer who is way faster than you, but if you know this going in, you will not be caught off guard if they start pulling way ahead; you can at least try your best to stay near them. However, very little can prepare you for when the swimmer that you were supposed to be faster than pulls way ahead and becomes “outside smoke” or a “surprise heat winner.” The only thing worse is when a swimmer with a slower seed time pulls way ahead and leaves you in their wake, but they are only going their seed time.

6. Missing Your Turn


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Going into a turn neck and neck with your competition only to mistime it, have your toes barely graze the wall, and then push off the wall several body lengths behind their competition is one of the worst feelings a swimmer can have. Despite practicing literally hundreds of turns daily, no swimmer can claim that they have never mistimed or completely missed a turn during a big race at some point.

7. Going Out Too Fast

There is no better feeling than having an electric start and taking a race out faster than your competition. Unfortunately, every swimmer has also had races when they take it out too fast and hit the halfway point, only to have all of their muscles tighten up and are suddenly way more tired than they should be at that point in the race. When this happens, you know it is going to be a struggle to make it to the finish. All of the sudden, the wall seems farther away, and all you can do is hope for is the race to end while you watch someone else pass you and win the race that should have been yours. 

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.


  1. Kim DuBois

    Kelly DuBois Wexler #1 while skateboarding outside the venue

  2. T James Boyle

    Ripped my finger on broken glass last year right before a 400 free last year had to swim with 6 elastoplasts and some glue, wasn’t cool.

    • Alexandra Desbiens

      Catherine Speth heureuse que toute aille bien été pour nous deux à la dernière compé !!! 🐳🐳

  3. Brett Davies

    Sliding down the wall at the start of a backstroke event is the worst in my opinion. This has actually happened to me at the highest level in my youth. As a 15 year old I was seeded 1st for the final of the 200 meters backstroke at the South African natoinal champio ships. I slipped down the wall on my start and even though I managed a 3rd place finish it was a huge dissappointment for me.

  4. avatar

    either back to back events or waking up sick. by back to back I mean having only one heat between your events. yes this has happened before.

  5. avatar
    Ed Urban

    Leg cramps while pushing off the wall on final turn on a 200.

  6. avatar

    Yea It kinda sucks when you false start on your 4IM that you did good on. That really made me hate tiny blocks, I was just adjusting my foot but apparently moved my foot a little to much

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