With Huge Time Drop, Honduras’s Julimar Avila Fills Final 200 Fly Semis Seat

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Olympic rings logo during the men's 400m individual medley final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Network, lane line, Olympics
7-28-21 7/26/21 Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Olympic rings logo during the men's 400m individual medley final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Network 2021 Olympics

With Huge Time Drop, Honduras’s Julimar Avila Fills Final 200 Fly Semis Seat

Julimar Avila saw the empty chair, smiled and let herself dream for just a moment.

Avila understood the math, even without the benefit of the biology degree the 24-year-old earned at Boston University. The preliminaries of the women’s 200 butterfly at the Tokyo Olympics, through the oddities of athlete specialization and the limits of the COVID-19 pandemic, had just 17 entrants on Tuesday night. Sixteen would advance to the semifinals Wednesday morning. Avila, representing Honduras and in the Olympics via a Universality spot, was the 17th seed by a wide distance, her seed time 10 seconds slower than the nearest competitor. Even odds that were seemingly in her favor, weren’t really.

And then, as Avila waited in the ready room before the second heat of three, she spied a chair that remained unoccupied. And when that chair didn’t fill with Katinka Hosszu muscled frame, and the block that was supposed to be the Hungarian’s stood empty after the walk out, Avila knew that roughly two minutes of legal butterfly stood between her and an Olympic semifinal.

“I was like, oh my gosh, it really can happen,” Avila said. “Honestly, I went in and really wanted to work on my times and I know all the hard work I’ve put in, no matter what the result is, if I made semifinals or not, I was going to be working toward improving my time. I was just happy that time. Making semis is just icing on the cake.”

Avila’s time – and she knows this as much as anyone – isn’t on the level that would usually make an Olympic semifinal. But by finishing 16th Tuesday night in 2:15.36, she’s in there. The time is almost eight seconds slower than top seeded Zhang Yufei of China. But Avila has whittled the distance between here and the next closest swimmer from 10 seconds to just three. She’s the first Honduran swimmer to make a semifinal and the first Universality swimmer to ever emerge from heats.

Whatever the time says, the effort that got Avila there, of surviving a contact-tracing quarantine in Tokyo that has kept her mostly out of the water, of setting a best time and cutting three seconds off her seed time, was nothing short of Olympian.

Avila’s journey is familiar for a Universality swimmer. She was born in the United States, her father, Julio Avila, having emigrated from Honduras to study at UMass Amherst and play soccer. He’s the long-time golf coach at Emmanuel College in Massachusetts.

The youngest of four children, Julimar Avila swam at Weston High School, setting a pair of state records and leading the Wildcats to a state title after 12 runner-up finishes. She went to BU, twice landing on the All-Patriot League first team and swimming a leg on the school record-setting 400 free relay.

After graduating in 2019, she set her sights on Tokyo, needing only to bridge a one-year gap. As a holder of seven Honduran records – in breaststroke, butterfly, freestyle and the individual medley – she would be a natural choice for Universality.

But one year became two. And pools that were reliably, unthinkably open became off limits. And training in a pool became excursions out into Walden Pond to do far more exertion than Henry David Thoreau ever managed there.

“It’s amazing, and I really started because a friend was going and I wanted some company because I actually have a fear of open water,” Avila said. “So the fact that my friend was there, I was like, I’ll join.”

The training worked. Avila set a slew of national records at the Puerto Rican International Open in May, and again at the CCCAN Championships in June.

But all that work nearly got derailed when she traveled to Tokyo on a flight with Dallas with a suspected COVID-19 case. The contact tracing limited her movements for 14 days, backdated to July 13, and while she wasn’t strictly quarantined, she had to limit interactions and travel outside her hotel. That meant days were swimming as off limits, with only occasional training when safe transport could be arranged.

Tuesday marked Day 14 and the end of restrictions. As celebrations go, Avila’s was pretty good.

“I was talking to my coach and he was like, ‘you know what, everything happens for a reason. Take it in stride and stay calm. And the fact that you’re here, cherish it,’” she said. “It’s true, I’m grateful no matter what. To be here is great.”

As for that final, Avila enters with no expectations. She’s already accomplished more than she would’ve dreamed in Tokyo, in terms of placement and time. So she’ll be swimming freely and enjoying the moment.

“I am just so happy with the result,” she said. “Tomorrow I’m just going to swim and put my heart out again.”

4 comments

  1. avatar
    Miriam

    Great job Julimar, I am very proud of you👍

  2. avatar
    Ester Donaire

    Awesome job Julimar, you are a special girl, even thouth you have been raised at the USA,You have LA GARRA CATRACHA. FELICIDADES A TI Y A TUS PADRES.Blessings.

  3. avatar
    Sophie Kulas

    We are SO PROUD!

  4. avatar
    Julio Avila

    Proud for that big accomplishment hard work paid off

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