Donahue had just finished seventh in the Olympic finals of the women’s 100-meter butterfly on Sunday night, her time of 57.48 seconds representing the second-fastest mark of her life.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better race,’’ said the 23-year-old Donahue, a Lenoir City High School and Western Kentucky graduate.
“The whole race felt really good, my turn felt good, my underwaters felt good, my time was great,’’ she said. “My teammate did great, so I’m on top of the world right now.’’
Team USA’s Dana Vollmer won the event in world-record time, touching the wall at 55.98.
Donahue had a good idea that neither she — nor anyone else — would catch her teammate this week. Vollmer set the pace with the event’s fastest times in Saturday’s preliminaries and semifinals.
Donahue, meanwhile, overcame her nerves to fly into the finals.
“My goal was actually just to get in the finals,’’ said Donahue, who did just that with a personal-best swim of 57.42 in Saturday night’s semis. “Once I got that, it was icing on the cake to compete in finals and pretty much match my best time.’’
There could be a cherry on top — and a gold medal — yet to come for Donahue, according to her personal coach, Bruce Marchionda.
Marchionda, who coaches at Western Kentucky, said Donahue has been selected to swim for Team USA in the preliminary race of the 400 individual medley Friday.
“Claire swam so well tonight, they’ve just told me she can swim in the prelims of the 400 individual medley on Friday,’’ Marchionda told the Knoxville News Sentinel.
“If she swims the prelims, she gets whatever medal the team wins in Saturday’s finals even if she’s not in the water. That team looks good, like they’re going to win the gold.’’
The only gold medal Donahue wanted to celebrate Sunday night, however, was Vollmer’s.
Donahue slipped over two lane markers to embrace Vollmer before the swimmers exited the pool.
“Everyone started screaming, and I looked up and saw Dana had gotten the world record,’’ Donahue said. “I was so happy. I had wanted to do well myself, and then for Dana to do that well was amazing because I know how hard she’s been working for it.’’
Donahue plans to continue to work hard in the pool, too. The East Tennessee Olympian said she expects to be back to compete in the 2016 Olympics.
“I think so, yeah,’’ Donahue said. “I’m definitely going to compete for the next year. We’ll go year-by-year after that.’’
Donahue has not only grown closer to Vollmer since the pair qualified for Team USA last month at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Neb., but she has also been inspired by her.
“Dana obviously did an awesome job, and I look up to her, so I could see myself going along the same lines as she has,’’ Donahue said. “It was great to get this experience at the biggest meet in the world, learn to control my nerves, and it gives me motivation.
“The biggest thing about this is just to take everything in.’’
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee athletics and is part of the Scripps team covering the London Olympics. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32