Greg Mercer, Waterloo Region Record
LONDON – Julia Wilkinson will have to live with the agony of ninth place after narrowly missing her chance to advance to the final in the women’s 100-metre backstroke at the Olympics.
The Stratford swimmer broke down in tears after racing 59.91 in the semi-finals at the Olympic Aquatic Centre Sunday night. That put her less than one-tenth of a second out of the last spot for the final.
“I raced like I was racing for a gold medal. I failed, and it’s heartbreaking. But you gotta believe you can win, or else it’s impossible,” she said. “It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I did everything I could. Ninth is horrible.”
She did what she could to calm her nerves, even calling her yoga instructor back in Victoria. The two talked by Skype about controlling her anxiety about the race.
It’s no consolation to the 25-year-old she swam the second-fastest 100-metre backstroke of her life in Sunday’s semi-final, beating her time from the morning’s heat, when she swam it in 59.94.
Wilkinson thought the final was hers, and that the podium was within reach. She was full of confidence after placing second in her heat , with Russia’s Anastasia Zueva touching the wall just fractions of a second ahead after a flat-out sprint.
“I think I saw God in the last 20 metres,” she said, after that first race. “He was singing The Final Countdown.”
Wilkinson admits she fell back on an old bad habit before her heat Sunday morning, throwing up in a bathroom when nerves got the best of her.
“I was like, ‘this is the biggest meet and the biggest day of my life, so I’m OK with this,’” she said. “Then I felt better. It’s an adrenaline thing.”
But she maintained her composure before her second race, although she fell short of her goal.
“I was excited, I felt I belonged there. I was ready to go to fight,” she said. “It just didn’t work out.”
It’s the second disappointment in two days for the Stratford swimmer. Her 4×100 metre freestyle team failed to advance to the final on Saturday night.
Wilkinson has two more events at these Games before her second Olympics are over. She’s set to race in the 100-metre freestyle Wednesday, then swim in the 4×100 metre medley relay on Friday.