Vollmer and Donahue Provide Feel-Good Vibe

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By John Lohn

OMAHA, Nebraska, June 26. AT every Olympic Trials, there are several feel-good stories. Sometimes, it's a surprise athlete making the team. Sometimes, it's the completion of a comeback journey. Sometimes, an athlete is competing with a heavy heart, but finds a way to come through and punch a ticket to the Olympic Games.

Kicking off the second night of the Olympic Trials was one of those feel-good stories, as Dana Vollmer and Claire Donahue locked up invitations to London in the 100-meter butterfly. For Vollmer, a 2004 Olympian, her victory in the event was a sense of redemption for failing to qualify for the Beijing Games in 2008.

Since the World Championships last summer, where Vollmer mined gold in the 100 fly, the Cal swimmer has been on a tear. She has repeatedly registered strong midseason times and demonstrated consistency, which was on full display during her first event of the meet. Vollmer clocked 56-mid in all three rounds, including an American record of 56.42 in the semifinals. She went 56.50 for the championship-final triumph.

Come London, Vollmer is expected to duel with Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom for the gold medal. Sjostrom, too, has been on fire. Like Vollmer, she has unleashed several impressive in-season performances

“I'm so relieved and emotional,” Vollmer said. “I have my heart set on (going 55), but here it was about getting my hand on the wall first.”

For Donahue, she proved an athlete can make an Olympic team without attending a powerhouse collegiate program, such as Texas, Cal, Stanford, Arizona or Georgia. Out of Western Kentucky and racing in Lane One, Donahue used a superb final lap to place second to Vollmer in 57.57.

There was an indication Donahue could challenge for a spot when she broke the 58-second barrier during the preliminary round. But when she dropped back into the 58-mid range during the semifinals, questions arose. It was a positive development to see the 23-year-old rebound in a pressurized situation.

**While Claire Donahue bounced back in the 100 butterfly, Matt McLean is on the road to redemption in the 200 freestyle. One day after finishing ninth in the 400 free, thus missing the final by one place, McLean qualified for the final of the four-lap event. He heads into the final as the No. 4 seed and chasing one of the six Olympic bids available.

**The comeback story of Brendan Hansen got its fairytale ending when the University of Texas product and four-time Olympic medalist pulled away from the field during the final 20 meters of the 100 breaststroke. Hansen's triumph, in 59.68, made him a three-time Olympian and made the past 18 months worthwhile.

Burned out of the sport in 2008, Hansen walked away after finishing fourth in the 100 breast at the Beijing Games. There was no intent on returning, until the passion started to build up and his wife, Martha, asked him a poignant question: “When you're 40, will you regret not coming back?” Hansen knew the right answer.

“There was pressure all day and it was wearing on me,” Hansen said. “I wanted to come out here and show what I could do. I had a great semifinal (Monday night), but I didn't want there to be any doubt. The time doesn't matter here. All I wanted to do was get my hand on the wall first. It feels so good. I keep building confidence.

“This is where I want to be. In 2008, I didn't want to be here. I was burned out. This time, I'm really enjoying myself.”

**What a showdown we'll have tomorrow night in the final of the women's 100 backstroke. Missy Franklin and Rachel Bootsma exchanged the 17-18 National Age Group record during the semifinals, with Bootsma going 59.10 before Franklin followed in 59.06. Both women could dip under 59 seconds during the final.

The surprise in the race was the struggle of two-time defending Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin, who slipped into the final in seventh position and more than a second off the pace set by Franklin. Unable to qualify for the Olympics in the 100 butterfly earlier in the night, Coughlin appears off and is in danger of missing out on London.

**Question of the Night: In tomorrow night't championship final of the 200 freestyle, are you picking Ryan Lochte or Michael Phelps to prevail?

Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn

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