Dana Vollmer did not have an easy road to the Olympics.
Vollmer is an olympic swimmer, but it wasn’t just the grueling practice schedule that made her journey to the top difficult. At the age of 15, Vollmer discovered that she had a heart disorder known as long QT syndrome. She had heart surgery later that year, but the operation didn’t eliminate the risk of heart failure. (Even today, her mother watches swim meets from the stands with a defibrillator between her feet.)
When Vollmer finally qualified for the Women’s 100m butterfly at the 2012 Olympics in London, it was her heart that got all of the attention. Little did she know that her head was about to be the problem.
As soon as Vollmer entered the pool in the 100m Final, her swim cap came off.
Professional swimmers wear latex swim caps that tightly cover their head to reduce drag in the water. Nearly every swimmer wears them, but swim caps are especially important for female swimmers. If a female swimmer loses her swim cap and her hair flows out into the water, then it can significantly increase the drag that she must swim against during the race. In a highly competitive race like an olympic final, this additional drag force can be the difference between winning and losing.