By Sharon Robb
June 26, 2016—On an electrifying opening night at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, South Florida Aquatic Club’s Claire Donahue kept her Olympic hopes alive.
Donahue, 27, making her third Trials appearance, advanced into Monday’s final of the 100-meter butterfly Sunday at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.
The 2012 Olympic gold medalist advanced through a nervewracking prelim in 59.61 and much-improved semifinal in 58.76 for the seventh fastest seed in finals.
Four years ago, Donahue was in the same position and ended up qualifying for the team.
“It’s a huge relief to make final,” said Donahue, while soaking in an ice bath. “When you touch the wall, you don’t know because there are two different heats. I was waiting and waiting and feeling the pressure and then found out I was in.”
In morning prelims, Donahue shook off a few pre-race jitters.
“You try to prepare yourself as much as you can but there’s still some nervous energy left there,” Donahue said. “For me I am trying not to get swept up into it. I want to stay calm and relaxed going into finals. I am excited for the race. I know there is a lot on the line.
“I knew there would be about five people right there, I’m not surprised there are more,” Donahue said. “At Trials anything can happen and anything does happen.”
Donahue will also compete in the 200-meter butterfly on Wednesday.
SOFLO teammate Kile Aukerman, making his Trials debut in three events, finished third in his 100-meter breaststroke heat in a lifetime-best time 1:03.00. Aukerman has the 200 breaststroke on Wednesday and 200-meter individual medley on Thursday.
“It feels great, I was looking to go right around three low and maybe even a two high so what I did was pretty good,” Aukerman said.
SOFLO’s Kathleen Golding, 15, of Cooper City High School, one of the youngest swimmers at Trials, finished the 400-meter individual medley in 4:56.96 for sixth place in her heat. Golding also has the 200 IM on Tuesday.
“I didn’t do as well as I wanted to,” Golding said. “Just being here is great. I am here to have fun and see all these great people race and see how it’s done so hopefully next time I can try and make the team. This is the nicest pool I ever swam at. It’s amazing.”
Kevin Cordes, who has been training in Singapore with veteran coach Sergio Lopez and more recently at SOFLO during a training trip in Pembroke Pines, earned the top seed in the 100-meter breaststroke semifinals in an American record time of 58.94.
During morning prelims, Michael Andrew, 17, became the youngest sub-minute breaststroker in U.S. history. Andrew broke his own 17-18 national age group record in 59.96 bettering his previous mark of 1:00.37. He had the fifth fastest time going into semifinals and moved into fourth after semis. “I am blown away going under a minute for the first time,” Andrew said. “It makes me feel world-class because this is legit now.”
In a sign that the guard is changing in swimming, the first six members of the U.S. Olympic team were decided in the men’s and women’s 400-meter individual medley and men’s 400-meter freestyle.
WOMEN’S 400-METER INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY: Maya DiRado, 23, of Stanford qualified for her first Olympic team winning in 4:33.73, fifth-fastest time in the world this season. Florida alum Elizabeth Beisel earned the second spot in 4:36.81 to make her third Olympic team. DiRado pulled away from the field after the breaststroke leg. DiRado, who nearly quit the sport, was emotional after making the team. “This is a dream,” she said. “I turned at the 300 and thought I can’t believe this is happening. Am I in the middle of my nap? This is an unbelievable feeling. I am so overjoyed. I don’t know what life I am living, but it’s amazing.” Beisel looked relieved after clinching a spot. “It’s harder the third time around,” Beisel said. “It’s such an honor to make my third team. We are going to do awesome in Rio.”
MEN’S 400-METER INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY: Chase Kalisz of North Baltimore and Jay Litherland of Dynamo made their first Olympic team as early leader and injured Ryan Lochte faded to third. “Honestly, the whole thing went by so fast, I feel like I am in a different reality right now,” said Kalisz, who was hugged by longtime friend and training mate Michael Phelps after he got out of the pool.
For the first time since the 2000 Olympics, Lochte will not be competing in the 400 IM. Kalisz won in 4:09.54 and Litherland was second in 4:11.02. Lochte finished in 4:12.02. Lochte took it out fast in the butterfly and backstroke distancing himself from the field by a body length. Kalisz started to reel him in on the breaststroke leg and passed him at the 100-mark. Kalisz pulled away on the freestyle and Litherland caught Lochte down the final stretch.
Lochte, 31, and defending 400 IM Olympic gold medalist, swam finals despite pulling a groin muscle in morning prelims. “I did everything I could in that race,” Lochte said. “It just wasn’t enough. I thought about scratching, but it’s the Olympic Trials.” Lochte has five more opportunities to make the team.
MEN’S 400-METER FREESTYLE: Connor Jaeger of Club Wolverine, trailing after the first 200 and thinking he was out of it, pulled away for the win in 3:43.79. Florida alum Connor Dwyer of Trojan Swim Club was second in 3:44.66.
SUNDAY FINAL RESULTS
400-meter individual medley: 1. Maya DiRado, Stanford 4:33.73, 2. Elizabeth Beisel, ABF 4:36.81; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 41. Rachel Bradford-Feldman, St. Andrew’s 4:53.33, 57. Kelly Fertel, Gulliver 4:55.50, 72. Kathleen Golding, SOFLO 4:56.96.
400-meter individual medley: 1. Chase Kalisz, North Baltimore 4:09.54, 2. Jay Litherland, Dynamo 4:11.03; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 33. Miguel Cancel, Gulliver 4:26.65, 40. Sam Smiddy, AquaKids Sharks 4:27.51.
400-meter freestyle: 1. Connor Jaeger, Club Wolverine 3:43.79, 2. Conor Dwyer, Trojan Swim Club 3:44.66; FLORIDA GOLD COAST: 53. Blake Manganiello, AquaKids Sharks 3:58.85.
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com