LONDON — Claire Donahue may not have entered the pool on Saturday at the 2012 London Olympics, but the former Western Kentucky University swimmer still managed to make history, becoming the first WKU Olympic athlete to ever claim a gold medal at the Summer Olympics, as Team USA claimed that prize in the finals of the 4x100 medley relay on Saturday at the Aquatics Centre in London, after Donahue helped the team get to that point with her performance in the preliminary heats of the event on Friday.
Donahue, who swam in the butterfly leg of the preliminary heats, helped guide Team USA to the finals by turning in a fourth-place finish in the heats of the event on Friday, posting a time of 58.05 seconds in her part of the race, keeping Team USA in the fourth-place position heading into Saturday's final.
Dana Vollmer, the gold medalist in the 100-meter butterfly, took over in the butterfly leg of the race in the finals, joining Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni and Allison Schmitt to post a world record time of 3:52.05, finishing nearly two seconds ahead of second place Australia to claim the gold medal in a relay race that consists of the backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and the freestyle.
Donahue, who placed seventh in the 100-meter butterfly at the 2012 Olympics on the opening weekend of the events, became just the second WKU Olympic athlete to earn a medal at the Summer Olympics, and the first to ever claim a gold medal. Bernd Herrman is the only other former WKU athlete to accomplish that feat, winning a bronze medal with the West Germany 4x400 track and field relay team during the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Donahue also became just the second WKU athlete to compete in two separate events during the Olympic Games, as Marlon Williams took part in the 5,000-meter and the 10,000-meter run with the U.S. Virgin Islands during the 1992 Games in Barcelona.
Donahue now has two gold medals in the 4x100 medley relay event, as she also claimed a gold medal in the event at the 2011 Pan American Games.
Donahue is now finished with events at the 2012 Olympics, wrapping up a week in which she set personal-bests in the 100-meter butterfly, qualified for the finals and placed seventh in the world in the 100-meter butterfly and took home a gold medal in the 4x100 medley relay with Team USA.
"We are extremely proud of Claire and happy that she has been rewarded for all of her efforts with a gold medal at the Olympics," WKU head swimming coach Bruce Marchionda said. "She had a great experience at this year's Games and has represented our program and this university exceptionally well. Claire performed on the biggest stage and has made us all very proud."
The Lenoir City, Tenn., native was one of three former WKU student-athletes participating at the 2012 Olympics, as former WKU track and field star Raigo Toompuu competed in the shot put for his native Estonia, placing 30th overall on Friday. Aside from Donahue and Toompuu, former Hilltopper Gavin Smellie is scheduled to run in the 4x100-meter relay with Canada on Friday, August 10. The three former Hilltoppers in the Olympics marks the fifth time in the university's history that three different WKU athletes have participated in the Olympic Games.