Matter of Seconds

Three seconds doesn't seem like a lot of time. It's hardly enough time to read the next couple of sentences. But in the world of sports, three seconds can seem like an eternity.

Three seconds is enough time to get off a game-winning shot in basketball, or to kick a clutch field goal. It's enough time to turn a double play on the baseball diamond or fire a slapshot from the blue line in hockey.

In swimming, three seconds can make a world of difference.

World Record: Earlier this week, at the world championships in Rome, American swimmer Mary DeScenza recorded a time of 2 minutes, 4.14 seconds in the 200-meter butterfly race. Not only did DeScenza beat her old personal best time by three seconds, but she set a new world record in the event. In 2008, DeScenza just missed qualifying to be on the U.S. Olympic team that went to Beijing. A year later, though, she cut three seconds off of her time to become the fastest swimmer ever to complete the 200-meter butterfly.

Slivers of Time: Before DeScenza set the record in Rome, the previous world record in the 200-meter butterfly was 2 minutes, 4:18 seconds. DeScenza beat the record by just .04 seconds. That is less than a tenth of a second! One of the reasons why competitive swimming is such an exciting sport is that the races are so close. Less than a second can be the difference between winning the race and failing to qualify for a medal.

Mechanics: Because slivers of seconds can make such a big difference in swimming races, the mechanics of the athlete are incredibly important. The correct strokes and kicks make all the difference in the world. That is why swimmers spend hours on end in the pool, practicing. They are not just improving their strength and stamina, but also working on their form. In a sport where seconds are precious, practice really does make perfect!

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