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Star-Telegram.com

Dana Vollmer realizes her hard-earned Olympics dream

Posted Tuesday, Jun. 26, 2012

By Charean Williams

cjwilliams@star-telegram.com

OMAHA, Neb. -- Dana Vollmer wanted the world record. There is no doubt about that. The Granbury product has talked about going "55" in the 100-meter butterfly since the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials began.

And halfway through her final Tuesday night, she was on pace to get it.

Vollmer ended up touching in 56.50, slower than her American-record-setting semifinal time of 56.42 a day earlier. But she could not have been happier.

For the first time in three Trials, she has done what she came to do. She will swim an individual event at the Olympics, having won her specialty, and she is going to London as the favorite.

"I knew going into the finals, it didn't matter what time I went," Vollmer said. "I needed to get first or second. Having the confidence to be able to put together those prelims and semifinal swims, I knew and I told myself that I didn't have to do anything crazy or spectacular [in the final]. I needed to get myself on the team.

"I really want to go 55, and I know there's a lot left in there."

Vollmer is only 24. Yet, those might as well be in dog years as much as she has gone through, as many health issues as she has had, as much pressure as she has put on herself and as much as self-doubt that she has overcome.

One race can't erase what happened four years ago, but it did bury it. Relief was a word Vollmer used more than once in interviews that stretched late into Tuesday night and delayed her celebration with her family.

Although she said 2008 feels like "just yesterday," it now officially is history.

"So many things in my life have changed," she said. "... I am in such a different place now."

After winning an Olympic gold medal in the 4x200m free relay as a 16-year-old in 2004, Vollmer failed to qualify for the 2008 Games. She was fifth in the 100 fly at the '08 U.S. Trials, seventh in the 200 free, and she failed to make the final in the 100 free. Her parents, Granbury residents Les and Cathy Vollmer, thought then that Vollmer might quit the sport she loved.

"She was so frustrated then that to commit to another four years is tough, it's really tough," Cathy Vollmer said Tuesday night. "But she did. She put everything into it -- heart and soul -- and it's paid off for her."

Vollmer now is the best in the world in her favorite event. Sweden's Sarah Sjoestroem has gone 56.79 this year, and Britain's Ellen Gandy, who will have fans on her side at the Olympics, has a 57.25. But only Vollmer can beat Vollmer.

She can't remember the last time she lost a 100 butterfly final. That's because it was so long ago.

Since winning the world championship -- her first major individual title -- last summer, Vollmer has won seven 100 fly finals in a row. Second-place Claire Donahue was more than a second behind her Tuesday, and the great Natalie Coughlin was more than two seconds back in seventh place.

"It's almost a sense of pride now," Vollmer said. "... I don't want people to think they can beat me. A lot of people were saying going into this 100 fly race that it was a race for second, and I feel like that's something I've tried to create. I liked hearing that."

Yet, it didn't hit her that she was an Olympian until the award ceremony. That's when the tears started for both her and her parents.

Four years ago, they shed tears of disappointment. This time, they were tears of joy.

Vollmer has two events to go here, including the 200 free preliminaries this morning. No matter what happens, London is hers. The only remaining question is: Will the 100 fly world record be hers as well?

Charean Williams

817-390-7760

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