Author: Mark Maloney special to the News-Herald Source: News-Herald
LONDON - Two down and one to go for Claire Donahue. That's
how the Lenoir City High graduate marked the first full day of competition in London's Summer
Olympic Games. Donahue overcame some choppy waters in the first-round morning heats of the
women's 100-meter butterfly, then posted a lifetime best in the night's semifinals. The efforts
were good enough to put her into Sunday's medal race at the London Aquatics Centre. "I was very
happy," she said after exiting the pool for the second time in the day. Although her time of
57.42 seconds placed her fourth in the second of two semifinals, she finished fifth overall. She
also lowered her personal best from 57.57. "It felt awesome. When I went into the race, I was
confident, way more than I was in prelims, and I think that was a big difference," Donahue said.
"And just the race itself, I felt a lot better. I worked on a few things in warmup to make sure I
get it down. And it worked out in semifinals, so I'm really excited." Team USA's Dana Vollmer, a
2004 Olympic gold-medalist in the 800-meter freestyle, led the semifinalists in 56.36. That was just
off the Olympic record of 56.25 she set in the morning heats. Alicia Coutts of Australia
qualified second in 56.85, followed by Denmarks's Jeanette Ottesen Gray (57.25), Sweden's Sarah
Sjostrom (57.27) and Donahue. Swimmers from China, Great Britain and Italy nailed down the final
three qualifying spots. Donahue, a 5-foot-7 1/2 23-year-old who went on from Lenoir City to
become an NCAA runner-up for Western Kentucky University, qualified for her first Olympics by
placing second to Vollmer at the U.S. Olympic Trials. The daughter of Christopher and Connie
Donahue, her potential seemed to come out last year when she earned an NCAA silver medal, added
another silver at the Conoco Phillips Nationals, then won gold at the Pan American Games in
Guadalajara, Mexico. She also won Pan Am gold in the 400 medley relay. Saturday's first round was
a bit of a test, though. She placed seventh overall, third in her heat, with a time of 58.06.
Vollmer, in the next lane, swam 56.25 to break the Olympic record of 56.61 set by Inge de Bruijn of
the Netherlands at the 2000 Games. Donahue was pleased to advance. "I was a little nervous.
But ... I think that I was, more than anything, just excited," she said. "So when I went into it, I
just tried to make sure I focused on what I needed to do -- swim fast. That's kind of what I did.
Just focused on what I needed to do, my turns, my underwaters and my connections. So when I touched
and saw my time, I was very happy -- fifty-eight-oh is a very good time for this morning. I'm glad I
can come back tonight and see what I can do." That also made up for the previous night, when
attending opening ceremonies didn't fit in with her schedule. "We couldn't go," Donahue said.
"But when the fireworks went off, it woke me up and I got to watch some of that, and that was just
amazing." After her morning race, Donahue lost her butterflies and focused on the 'fly. "Just
relaxing. I took a nap. Ice bath. Stretch a lot. Warm down a lot. Just a lot of different things,"
she said. "Technique-wise, I really focus in on catching the water and accerlerating my stroke. And
one of the big things is confidence, making sure I had a lot of confidence going in because I didn't
as much in prelims, and just make sure that between prelims and semifinals I relaxed and got
ready." The end result is that Donahue will get to swim for an Olympic medal on Sunday. And
the home folks have been behind her every stroke of the way. "Yeah, they made a video for me and
everything," she said. "It's really exciting."