LONDON – Andrew Ford’s and Julia Wilkinson’s hopes for races that would bring them into an Olympic final were dashed in the pool Wednesday evening, only hours after both clocked the fastest swims of their lives.
Ford, the 23-year-old Guelph native who trains at the University of Guelph, swam in a star-studded 200-metre individual medley semifinal at the London 2012 Olympics that included Americans Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
His time of 2.01.58 fell short of the cut-off needed to advance to Thursday night’s final. With two races under his belt, Ford’s competition at his first Olympics now comes to an end.
But the young swimmer walks away from the Games a happy man – he earned his way to the semifinal with a personal best time earlier Wednesday. Ford came first in his morning heat with a time of 2:00.28, fast enough to earn him the last of 16 spots for the semifinal later Wednesday.
“Getting to walk out and be a part of that semifinal with the two guys who are a pillar of this sport, it’s an unbelievable learning experience,” he said. “If you had asked me two years ago if I’d be here, I never would have believed it.”
It was tough to get up again for the second race of the day, he admitted.
“It sort of feels like I had 18 years of emotion behind this morning’s swim. And then I had to find another 18 years of emotion in six hours,” he said, after his race. “I should have just swam my own race, and kept my head. I wasn’t as focused.”
Wilkinson, the 2008 Olympian, will try to reset and get ready for one more Olympic event after missing another final, this time in the women’s 100-metre freestyle race. She clocked in at 54.25, putting her in seventh place in her round, not quite fast enough to be top eight overall.
“I was trying to not put so much pressure on myself,” she said, afterward. “Again, I really, really thought I could make that final. I’m frustrated, for sure.”
But there was some consolation from her morning’s swim, when she came third in her heat, with a time of 54.16. That was the fastest she’d ever swum in the event, breaking her previous best of 54.33 set at the 2008 Olympics.
Two nights earlier, Wilkinson missed out on the final in the 100-metre backstroke by less than a tenth of a second. She’ll get one more shot in the pool on Friday, when she swims in the 4x100-metre medley relay.
“It’s hard to put everything in and not get the result, to keep getting back up when you just want to crawl into a ball and cry,” she said.
Ford said he was happy with his morning result, but said he had his hopes set on breaking the Canadian record of 1:59.19. Still, he’s already looking ahead to four years down the road, at the 2016 Olympics.
“I’m upset I didn’t break two minutes, which was a goal of mine and a step toward breaking that Canadian record. But I’m very pleased I won my heat,” he said, after his morning race.
The capacity crowds at the wave-shaped Olympic Aquatics Centre provided an electric atmosphere for a swimmer experiencing his first Games. He said he was nervous, but didn’t feel any pressure.
“The roar in the crowd was unlike anything I’ve ever heard in 18 years of swimming,” Ford said. “It’s amazing to know you have the unquestionable support of an entire nation behind you.”