Ninth is the Loneliest Number

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By guest writer Julia Wilkinson-Minks (2008 & 2012 Canadian Olympian)

BARCELONA, Spain, August 2. FOR every swimmer who cries tears of joy at World Championships, there is one who sobs behind the massage table in the warm-up area. For every swimmer that throws their head back in joy when they see their time on the clock, there is one who pulls themselves out of the pool dejectedly, head hanging in disappointment. This contrast is infrequently captured by the cameras, unless the disappointed swimmer happens to be a favorite, like a fourth-place finish from Ryan Lochte. When you are actually there, on the pool deck, in the mixed zone, and walking back through the labyrinth to your coach, you see it all, the entire spectrum from elation to despair.

When Jazmin Carlin was 9th this morning in the 800 freestyle, her heart must have broken. Carlin was a major medal favorite in the distance freestyle events heading into Barcelona, seeded second in the world in the 1500 and first in the 800 ahead of Katie Ledecky. When predicting the races, it seemed that if anyone could possibly get in Ledecky’s way of gold, it would be Carlin; as she prepared for Barcelona, the majority of her thoughts must have been about the podium, and how to get on top of it.

Before she hit the water for her mile on Monday, she had probably not even considered whether or not she would make the final. She ended up missing the final by one spot, just under a second separated Carlin from 8th.

This morning, it was even worse for the British distance swimmer: 9th in the 800, but by a much smaller margin: seven hundredths of a second. That is one underwater kick, one not-so-perfect turn, or maybe just one bad stroke. Seven one hundredths is nothing but frustration, regret, and disappointment when it lands you just out of the finals.

Jazmin Carlin had the meet of her life at British Trials last month, and maybe therein lies the problem. Like the US, the British held their trials very late in the season; unlike the US, however, the British used time standards that were even faster than the FINA A times. Some British Olympic finalists, like Liam Tancock and Elizabeth Simmonds, are sitting at home right now because the tough standards eluded them. Perhaps Carlin was unable to repeat her performances from Trials here in Barcelona because she had to completely rest just to make the team? One would wonder if this was the best possible decision for the swimmers.

That being said, it may also just be the nerves and the pressure for Carlin, and have nothing to do with her physical preparedness. Entering the meet as the only woman in the world that may have a shot to beat Katie Ledecky would weigh on a swimmer, and not everyone revels in the pressure that comes with winning a medal at the international level. There could be any number of reasons why Carlin is not performing the way she and the swimming world expected, and no doubt she has run through every possibility every time she closes her eyes.

Missing the final when you are a medal hopeful is extremely painful: it’s almost worse than coming fourth, because you miss your chance to even be in the race. Carlin will learn from this experience, and come back better, but that does not minimize the disappointment she must certainly be feeling right now.

Julia Wilkinson-Minks is a two-time Olympian for Canada and was a finalist in the 200-meter IM at the 2008 Beijing Games. In 2010, she became Texas A&M’s first ever NCAA champion in swimming when she won the 100-yard freestyle. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in Speech Communication. Julia retired from competitive swimming following the London Olympic Games and now lives in Texas with her husband Shane.

Follow her on twitter @juliah2o

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