Ever watch a race and someone who looks like they are behind at the finish ends up winning. Amy Van Dyken is a perfect example, winning the 50 meter freestyle during the 96 Olympics. She was behind the Chinese swimmer until the final touch into the wall. Amy won the Olympic Gold medal by less than three hundredths of a second. It is estimated an improved finish can reduce your time by .1 to .2 seconds, and a poor finish can cost .5 seconds. You too can win more often by improving your finish.
Every stroke finishes slightly different; but we will start with breaststroke and butterfly. Always look for the wall 3 to 5 meters out and try to finish on one final explosive outstretch of the arms, jabbing your fingers into the touch pads 4 to 8 inches below the water surface. Never touch higher up as you might not activate the touch pad. Touch first with the fingertips and then go from the fingertips to the palms. If you come up short, never take another stroke; streamline and stretch into the touch pads. The rules for both strokes allow your head to be under water at the finish, so try to finish underwater as your velocity is higher underwater than above. Butterfliers must continue kicking even while jabbing into the pads, and in both strokes you should not breathe on the last stroke into the wall.
On freestyle and backstroke you again must know where you are. Never breath near the finish, and make the last stroke the most powerful and quickest of the race. Extend the arm to the wall as far as possible. You can easily gain 6 to 8 inches reach. Whatever you do, don't look up or back with the head to see if you won. This can be like throwing out a parachute, slowing you down enough to lose. You don't need to see where your competitors are because you've just touched them out! Again don't stop kicking until after the touch. Practice both starts and finishes often in practice.
When you swim relays, remember the leading cause of disqualification is not the swimmer on the blocks, but the swimmer in the water misjudging the finish and taking extra strokes into the wall. The swimmer on the blocks can not anticipate these extra strokes, and ends up leaving too soon. Use these finishing tips. They can make a winner out of you and your relay teammates.