While it meant the end to the greatest week of her athletic career, Dana Vollmer swam faster than she ever had before Saturday.
Still, though her part of the XXXth Olympics came to a close that day, London will be in her memory forever.
“I couldn’t ever have imagined such an amazing meet,” Vollmer said.
The Golden Girl from Granbury won three gold medals in the span of eight days. She set an individual world record, was part of a team world record, and was part of a team Olympic record.
And in her final swim of these Olympics, she sizzled in the water like no one ever has.
Vollmer swam her leg (100-meter butterfly) of the women’s 400 medley relay in a blistering time of 55.48 seconds. While it won’t count as a world record, it was a half second faster than the world record of 55.98 she set in winning the individual competition a week earlier.
And it helped the quartet of herself, Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni and Allison Schmitt set a world record of 3:52.05. The Wednesday prior (Aug. 1), Vollmer, Franklin and Schmitt joined Shannon Vreeland in setting an Olympic record in winning gold in the 800 freestyle relay that swam a 7:42.92.
But Vollmer knows that records are meant to be broken. The world record of 7:53.42 she and her teammates set in winning the 800 free relay in 2004 has long since been shattered numerous times.
The medals will be hung up for folks to admire. The 24-year-old could perhaps even add a few more before her career is done.
But Vollmer knows what is most important that she is taking home from these games — and it isn’t hardware.
“More than the medals, it’s the team that has impressed me,” she said. “Teri (McKeever, her coach) has always told me when I’m older, I’m not going to remember the times or how many medals I got. It’s the relationships I’ll remember — and this meet has been full of them.”
Vollmer roomed with Soni, and the two are extremely close. Throughout these games she also grew closer to all of her teammates on the relays.
“It’s amazing to come to the Olympic Games and be up on the world stage with your best friends in the country and know they’re fighting just as hard for you as you are for them,” said Vollmer.
“More than the swim, it’s the ready room, the girls, just simply laughing and having an amazing time.
“Standing behind the blocks and just really wanting to give more than I had in myself for those three girls is an amazing way to end this meet.”
Franklin echoed Vollmer’s comments about the final event.
“I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to end it,” said Franklin, who won four gold medals in these games. “That was so perfect in absolutely every way.”
Vollmer and Franklin joined an exclusive group. They are two of only 13 female swimmers to win four or more gold medals in the history of the Olympics.
Vollmer, a constant tweeter, shared her experience with all who follow her by posting several times daily. With each post she seemed more excited than the previous.
“Best experience of my life. So proud to represent Team USA,” read one of her most recent tweets.
All of this for someone who just four short years ago wasn’t even certain she’d continue in competitive swimming. Her disappointing performance at the 2008 Olympic Trials when she failed to make the team now seems so far in the past — a place she plans on keeping it, although using the memory as motivation nonetheless.
“I’m so excited and on top of the world right now,” Vollmer said. “Having a gold medal around my neck has made all the hard work I have done pay off.”
Healthy and happy, Vollmer has indicated she will take a little time to come back to Granbury, but for how long is uncertain. For however long it is, she will receive a hero’s welcome, including a parade that is in the planning stages.
But no matter how fast she swims from here on, a part of her will forever stay in London.
“To have finished on that note is incredible,” she said.
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