As soon as the national anthem finished, signaling the end of the medal ceremony for the women’s 4x100 medley relay, Dana Vollmer sought her family in the stands.
The Granbury native and her parents shared a long hug.
“We almost didn’t have to say any words,” Vollmer said. “Just holding my parents, knowing all the work that’s gone into this past year and all the sacrifices and love, this is absolutely the perfect ending.”
But don’t get the wrong idea: This wasn’t Vollmer’s swan song. She has hopes for another comeback after a second child.
“I absolutely loved this schedule that I had,” said Vollmer, who returned to the sport only 15 months ago after a nearly two-year maternity leave. “I loved training and learning new things about my body. The plan is baby No. 2, but I want to keep training.
“It’s always family-first still. If I can manage two kids and keep training, then I will. We’ll take it day by day.”
It was a night of firsts ... and lasts.
On the final night of swimming, the Michael Phelps sendoff took center stage. Phelps helped the men’s 4x100 medley team win gold on the last event, giving him 28 career Olympic medals — 23 of them gold.
The U.S. finished this Olympics with 33 swimming medals, including 16 gold.
Vollmer, 28, goes home Sunday with three medals. Besides the gold hanging around her neck Saturday night, she won the silver in the 4x100 freestyle relay and the bronze in the 100 butterfly.
It gives her seven career medals in three Olympics.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” Vollmer said. “You fight so hard for one, and then you fight so hard for that second one. I can’t even imagine what Michael’s thinking. I mean, seven is just such an honor. It’s amazing.”
If Saturday night proves to be her last swim, Vollmer made sure it was memorable. She swam the fastest third leg — finishing in 56.0 — to give the U.S. a 1.10-second lead that Sugar Land’s Simone Manuel wasn’t about to lose.
That after Kathleen Baker and Lilly King had so-so times, leaving the U.S. fourth after 200 meters.
Vollmer always writes a word on her right foot, an important last reminder while she’s in the blocks. For her individual race, it was her son’s name, Arlen. For her final race in these Olympics, it was “calm.”
“I felt strong,” Vollmer said. “...I kept taking out my 100 flies really fast. I was like, ‘Calm down. You’re OK and just really bring it home and have a good finish for the next person.’
“I kept thinking back to London, and that was by far one of my favorite moments, and to get to stand up there with three different girls and the energy they bring to the team, that kind of added to me writing calm as well. I was like go out there and swim how we know how to swim.”
The U.S. won in 3:53.13, with Australia second at 3:55.00. It was Team USA’s 1,000th career gold medal in the summer Olympics.
“We had talked about that when we heard about it,” Vollmer said. “It was like the 953rd medal that was won, and we were like, ‘Oh, I wonder who’s going to win the 1,000th medal. I think it’s a real big honor for us, and it just really makes us reflect on all the generations of U.S. Olympic teams before this, to think about the teams that we first saw and our first inspiration.
“I remember sitting in my living room and watching the 1996 gymnastics team and watching Kerri [Strug] on the vault and being like, ‘I want that. I want to be her.’ Seeing the grit that she had in that second vault and putting her body through that for her team, that’s what I wanted. To stand up here and know we’re giving it all every time we race, that’s what it means to be a U.S. Olympian.”
Vollmer defines Olympian. She has shown the same grit as Strug and others. She has persevered, overcoming obstacles from a heart condition to food allergies to a knee injury to a back injury to a shoulder injury to the mental pressure of competition to a failed bid for the 2008 Games to the birth of her son.
After all that, who’s going to doubt she won’t be back in four years, at the age of 32, and after a second child? She’s already proved she’s Supermom.