Olympic Fever! Cameron places 8th in 200 IM finals at Trials

By on July 6, 2016
Warwick grad Emily Cameron competed in four events at the Olympic Trials last week and earned an eighth-place medal in the 200 Individual Medley finals. Photo courtesy of University of Georgia Athletics.

Warwick grad Emily Cameron competed in four events at the Olympic Trials last week and earned an eighth-place medal in the 200 Individual Medley finals. Photo courtesy of University of Georgia Athletics.

By the time Emily Cameron stepped onto the starting blocks for the 200 Individual Medley finals at the Olympic Trials last Wednesday, the pressure was gone.

The 2013 Warwick grad had advanced through the preliminaries and the semi-finals to earn a spot in the top eight, and the rest was just a bonus.

“Once you get to the final, you’re just going out there and having a good time,” Cameron said. “That’s really what it’s all about.”

In front of a packed house at Century Link Center in Omaha, Neb., and with NBC cameras televising live, Cameron swam to an eighth-place finish in 2:14.16 in her first Olympic Trials finals appearance.

“I wasn’t really going for times. I just really wanted to be able to get top eight — that was really my dream,” Cameron said. “So being able to do that, I wasn’t worried about my time. Just being able to walk out and wave to the cameras in front of 14,000 people was really cool.”

Among the throng was Michael Phelps, who earlier that evening qualified for a record-setting fifth Olympic Games.

In the 200 I.M., only the top two finishers — Maya Dirado (2:09.54) and Cameron’s training partner at the University of Georgia, Melanie Margalis (2:10.11) — qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

But the Lititz native didn’t come empty handed, as she still received a medal unlike any other.

“It’s beautiful,” said Cameron, who also placed 11th in the 400 I.M. in 4:42.73, 29th in the 100 breaststroke in 1:10.34 and 32nd in the 200 breaststroke in 2:31.82. “I’m sure I’ll hang it up on my wall or something and I’ll tell my kids about it when I’m older. But it’s a pretty nifty piece of hardware, let me tell you.”

In addition to that hardware, she was also be able to pick up a lot of positive experiences.

And more than a little emotional exhaustion.

“I don’t know if I have ever experienced that much in a week,” Cameron said. “I mean, from focusing on your own events to, every night at finals, it was just the most exhilarating experience.”

Coming off of winning their third NCAA crown in four years, the University of Georgia women combined with the men to send 33 swimmers to the Olympic Trials. Eight of those qualified for Rio.

“In 2012, we didn’t have a huge crew with us,” said Cameron, who became a four-time All-American and two-time Academic All-American at this year’s NCAA Championships. “(This time), I had a whole team behind me, so every night, we were getting behind each other and you (burned) so much energy at finals every night cheering for people, but it was so worth it … I think the highlight of the week was probably having so many Georgia teammates qualify for the Olympics.”

Among those was her best friend, Olivia Smoliga, who punched her ticket in the 100 backstroke.

Just 15 minutes prior Cameron’s 200 IM finals.

“I was nervous out of my mind for her because she had a really good shot at making it,” Cameron said. “I was warming up and watching her (qualify), so of course, I got out of the water, I was crying and I ran over and hugged her. My coach was like, ‘Emily, you need to get it together. You swim in 15 minutes.’ It actually ended up working out well for me because I just fed off of that. I had such an adrenaline rush that it helped me through the race.”

Just a few lanes over from Cameron in the 200 I.M., Margalis held off Caitlin Leverenz (2:10.16) for silver and a spot on the Olympic Team.

“For me, I knew my chances of making the Olympic Team were pretty slim because of how talented the other swimmers in my event are,” Cameron said. “But I knew Melanie had a heck of a good shot. So the fact that I was five lanes down from her and I got to see that happen was amazing.”

On the opening day of the Trials, back on Sunday, June 26, Cameron nearly put herself in position to win a second medal.

Competing in the 400 I.M., she touched the wall in 4:42.73, which left her just seventh-tenths of a second behind Lindsey Clary (4:42.04) for the eighth berth in the finals.

“It’s disappointing, but you can only be so disappointed when you’re at the Olympic Trials,” Cameron said. “You’re at the best meet every four years and just being there and being able to say, ‘Hey look, I’m in the top 10 percent of swimmers at this meet,’ I think that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.”

Plus, despite the near-miss, it was still an encouraging outcome from which she could build on during the rest of the Olympic Trials.

“In 2012, I had a terrible first event in the 400 I.M. and I think that kinda set the tone for the rest of the meet,” Cameron said. “But in 2016, I had a great 400 I.M., I still had a great time, I just didn’t go fast enough to make it back. So I still had that positive attitude going into the rest of the meet.”

Not only that, but she has a lot of momentum going into her senior year at UGA. Following a little bit of well-deserved relaxation, Cameron will turn her attention to her final season competing with the Lady Bulldogs.

“I’m just making sure that I can carry on the momentum that I’ve had the past two years and focusing on a special senior year,” she said. “I don’t know if I will continue swimming after NCAA’s this year. I’m kinda excited to see what life has to offer me after swimming. But then again, maybe if I’m still loving the sport and loving racing as I do right now, then maybe I will continue if it’s financially responsible for me to.”

In the meantime, she is no doubt counting the days until the Rio Olympics get underway on Aug. 5, when she will watch many of her friends compete for Olympic hardware.

“I’m ecstatic. I can not wait,” Cameron said. “Honestly, out of the entire Olympic Team, I probably know about 85 percent of them personally. So just seeing those people for one second being normal college students and the next second being 2016 Olympians is, like, holy cow, that’s awesome.”

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