LONDON — Former Western Kentucky University swimmer Claire Donahue capped off her incredible Olympic journey Sunday night in London, finishing seventh overall with a time of 57.48 seconds in the final of the 100-meter butterfly at the 2012 London Olympics.
Donahue's time was just slightly behind her personal-best time of 57.42 seconds set on Saturday during the semifinals of the event. Donahue's time in the semifinals and the final both surpassed her previous personal-best time of 57.57 seconds, which she recorded in the finals of the 100-meter butterfly at the 2012 Olympic Trials.
"Going into it, I just wanted to have a good race," Donahue said. "I had a great race in the semifinals - best time. My goal was actually just to get in the finals, and once I got that it was just kind of icing on the cake being able to compete in the finals and pretty much match my time. So I’m thrilled. I’m so happy with how I’ve done."
"This is just a tremendous accomplishment for Claire," WKU head swimming coach Bruce Marchionda said. "To just make the Olympic team is an accomplishment, but for her to make the finals at the Olympics is a great accomplishment. She got very close to the medal stand this year. It is a great trip for her and I could not be more proud of what all she has done. She recorded lifetime bests at the Olympics, with her final two swims both being faster than the trials. She competed with the best in the world, which is pretty impressive."
Donahue's seventh-place time of 57.48 seconds was narrowly behind Alicia Coutts' third-place time of 56.94 seconds, which earned her a bronze medal in the event.
"The whole race felt really good," Donahue said. "My turn felt really good. My underwaters felt good. I could not have asked for a better race. It felt good, it was good, my time was great and my teammate [Dana Vollmer] did great. So I’m on top of the world right now."
Donahue and fellow United States swimmer Dana Vollmer each qualified for Sunday's final, with Vollmer taking home the gold medal with a world record time of 55.98 seconds, besting the previous world record of 56.06 seconds set by Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom in 2009. Vollmer and Donahue became the second U.S. duo to make the finals of an individual women's swimming event to this point at the 2012 Olympics, with Elizabeth Beisel and Caitlin Leverenz each making the finals of the 400-meter individual medley.
Donahue, a 2011 WKU graduate, entered the 2012 Olympics as the first WKU swimmer to ever make the U.S. Olympic swimming team, and the third WKU swimmer to ever swim in the Summer Olympics. Her seventh place overall finish nearly made her the second WKU Olympic athlete to win a medal at the Summer Olympics, with the only other WKU athlete to accomplish that feat being Bernd Herrman back in 1976. Herrman took home the bronze with the 4x100 West Germany track and field relay team at the 1976 Montreal Games.
"I think being here is one of the coolest things, just to be able to experience everything," Donahue said. "That’s the biggest thing about this, is just being able to take everything in. So it’s really exciting."
Donahue is one of three WKU athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, marking the fifth time that WKU has placed three athletes in the Games. The school record for Summer Olympic athletes is four, set back during the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Former track and field standouts Gavin Smellie and Raigo Toompuu will represent their respective countries at this year's Games. Smellie will race with Canada in the 4x100 meter relay beginning on Friday, August 10, while Toompuu will throw the shot put for his native Estonia on Friday, August 3.