By Sharon Robb
June 5, 2015—U.S. Olympic gold medalist Claire Donahue has joined South Florida Aquatic Club to train full-time for the 2016 Olympic trials and hopefully her second Olympic team.
Donahue, 26, a U.S. national team member, will begin training with SOFLO’s pro group in August after the July 24-Aug. 9 FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia and FINA World Cup Series.
Donahue joins SOFLO’s pro team of three-time Jamaican Olympian and world record holder Alia Atkinson; two-time Colombian Olympian and national record holder Carolina Colorado; Jorge Murillo of Colombia and Timothy Wynter of Jamaica, both national record holders.
Donahue will be coached by SOFLO head coach Chris Anderson at the world championships and first two legs of the FINA World Cup, Aug. 11-12 in Moscow and Aug. 15-16 in Paris.
Her longtime coach Bruce Marchionda, whose last day at Western Kentucky is June 30th after ten seasons, will join Donahue at SOFLO in late August.
Marchionda will continue coaching Donahue and will also help coach at SOFLO.
Donahue, a Western Kentucky alum, has been a post-grad swimmer in Bowling Green since qualifying for the 2012 Olympic team in the 100-meter butterfly. She earned a gold medal as a member of the 400-meter medley relay team. She is WKU’s first Olympian to win a gold medal.
Anderson and Marchionda are longtime friends. It will be a smooth transition for both Donahue and Marchionda after training at SOFLO during holiday breaks and camps for several years.
“SOFLO was at the top of the list, we are familiar with the pool, and Bruce and I know Chris pretty well,” Donahue said.
“We had all the schools and teams listed where we wanted to go and we really felt SOFLO was a great fit more than any other team.”
Donahue, while sad about leaving Kentucky after eight years, is excited about the future.
“My first consideration was the coaching,” Donahue said. “I am going to have two Olympic-level coaches which is huge. Not a lot of people can get that. I am really excited about having both of them.
“The training atmosphere is what I was looking for. It is a pro group. I am 26 and being able to train with pros is another thing that is going to help me improve in the next year.”
Donahue trained with the pro group including Atkinson and Colorado in March.
“It was so much fun, the atmosphere was great,” Donahue said. “It’s not just about having the high level of training partners to train and push you but their goal is the same as mine. I really enjoyed the practices. I really am looking forward to it. I want to go. There are no doubts in my mind.”
Atkinson and other future teammates are already joking to Donahue, “I hope you’re ready to get a tan.”
“I am excited about the weather,” Donahue said. “I have always wanted to live in Florida. It is far away from home, but it’s also 30 minutes away from the beach and you can’t beat that. I am glad it all worked out.”
Donahue wanted to stay with her consistent training routine with Marchionda in Bowling Green until she left for worlds.
“Then when we get back we will pretty much pack up everything and head down there,” Donahue said. “I am very, very excited about the move.
“The Olympic trials are getting closer and closer,” she said. “I remember two years ago saying, ‘Claire, it’s time to get back to work, the next Olympics are coming pretty quickly.’ Every practice is important.”
It will also be the opportunity of a lifetime for SOFLO swimmers and coaching staff.
In addition to the SOFLO pros, top age group swimmers who have made their Grand Prix cuts including Melissa Marinheiro, Julien Pinon, Kathleen Golding and Jessica Rodriguez will also be training with Donahue.
“It’s going to be a great experience for SOFLO, taking our coaching staff and athletes to an even higher level,” Anderson said. “It brings us up another notch to have someone who is ranked among the top swimmers in three events.”
Anderson, a three-time Jamaican Olympic coach, just returned from his head coaching stint at the USA Swimming Zone Select Camp in Arizona. Anderson is also coaching five athletes at the July 14-18 Pan American Games in Toronto.
“Claire and Bruce bring that professionalism and competitiveness on a daily basis,” Anderson said. “There’s no transition needed, it’s full speed ahead.”
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org