For David Plummer and Katie Meili, Perseverance Pays Off in Bronze

Photo Courtesy: Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

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By David Rieder.

After the best race of his career to that point, David Plummer was crushed. He had broken 53 for the first time in the 100 back, posting a 52.98 in the event at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2012, but in a typically-deep field of Americans, he was third behind Matt Grevers and Nick Thoman—who went on to win gold and silver, respectively, in London.

Plummer had already extended his swimming career four years after graduating from Minnesota, but he would need to go for another four in order have a shot at redemption.

“It was really tough,” Plummer said. “Trying to look ahead to 30 [years old] and tell yourself you’re still going to have it was hard but absolutely worth it.”

But there was Plummer on the World Championships teams in both 2013 and 2015, and a month out from Olympic Trials, he posted his lifetime-best time with a 52.51, setting himself up for a showdown with Grevers and Ryan Murphy in his return trip to Omaha, Neb.

In that field, with only two spots on the line, someone was going home disappointed. The potential for an unthinkable second-straight heartbreak was staring Plummer in the face.

But this one would be different, as Plummer finished just two one-hundredths behind Murphy for second place and finally, at the age of 30, he was a first-time Olympian.

Monday night, Plummer won his first Olympic medal, edging reigning World Champion Mitch Larkin for the bronze, 52.40 to 52.43.

“It’s been a long road—long, hard road. To be here and put two Americans on the podium, I’m really excited,” Plummer said.

“I didn’t have the race I was really looking for, but I really enjoyed going through that. I loved every minute of it.”

Katie Meili, too, had to wait a long time to fulfill her Olympic dream. While she never suffered the heartbreak Plummer did at Trials, few ever thought she’d be in the position to do so.

Meili finished her eligibility at Columbia in 2013 as one of the greatest swimmers in Ivy League history, capping things off with a third-place finish in the 100 breast at NCAAs.

But she wanted more. Meili knew that she had unfulfilled potential still to tap and hoped that a stint training with the SwimMAC Elite squad under David Marsh could push her to the next level.

But even then, few—Meili herself included—could have predicted her story would come together as it did, with Meili standing on the podium at the Olympic Games, a bronze medal around her neck.

“I think [this became realistic] about a year ago, when I started getting top-three, top-four in the world,” Meili said. “When the goal became to make the U.S. Olympic team, it automatically becomes to win a medal.”

During Meili’s stellar 2015 campaign, she broke 1:07 for the first time in the 100 breast, broke 1:06 for the first time, won her first international gold medal at the Pan American Games and then her first U.S. National title a few weeks later in San Antonio. She finished the year ranked third in the world at 1:05.64.

And then Tuesday night, Meili swam the race of her life, finishing third in the 100 breast final behind U.S. teammate Lilly King and Russia’s Yulia Efimova.

“This whole experience has been a dream come true,” Meili said. “It’s a lot of hard work, but I’ve had so much support along the way. This medal belongs to so many more people than me.”

Swimming requires so much patience, and when Meili and Plummer made the call to go for 2016, even when few would have predicted either to be standing on the bronze medal podium on August 8, 2016. They knew that meant putting their lives outside of the pool on hold for three years before there would be another chance to fulfill their ultimate goals.

And when that opportunity finally came around, Meili and Plummer both pounced.

Click here to view full results from day three finals.

1 Comment

1 comment

  1. avatar
    David Abineri

    NBC is doing a pretty good job of hiding the leader’s turns from us by showing their names over the lane. There must be a better way to do this so that we can see the turn and push-off more clearly as this can be an important part of every race at this level.
    Also, how parochial is NBC? I saw the faces of the 1 and 3rd USA men’s 100 Back but never saw the silver medalist despite the significance of earning such a medal!

Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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