In a dramatic prime-time-network-TV showdown, Madison Kennedy of Charlotte came up just short in her final attempt to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic women’s swimming team for 2016.
Kennedy, 28, finished third in the 50-meter freestyle final at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., edged out by a pair of 19-year-olds. The difference: Fifteen-hundredths of a second, with Abbey Weitzeil and Simone Manuel both adding events to already-punched tickets to Rio in 24.28 and 24.33, respectively. Kennedy’s time was 24.48.
“It pisses me off ... but it didn’t hurt as bad as I thought it would to not make it,” she said by phone after the race.
Seventy-two hours earlier, Kennedy also had her hopes dashed in the 100-meter freestyle, finishing ninth in the semifinals and missing the final by one spot.
This was Kennedy’s third trip to the Trials; in 2012, she was fifth in the 50-meter free final.
“You don’t know what to say,” NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines said during the telecast, after the final. “Your heart really goes out for somebody like that who has trained so hard and been so close so many times.”
Earlier this month, Kennedy was the subject of an Observer profile that highlighted her free-spirited personality and her radical approach to training. Among other things, the latter involved her forgoing some training sessions with SwimMAC’s Team Elite in favor of part-time jobs at retailer Lululemon and Hilliard Studio Method, where she works as a fitness instructor.
“Now people are gonna think, ‘Oh yeah, see it doesn’t work your way,’ or, ‘You’re not legit’ – and that’s frustrating,” she said.
But more than anything, Kennedy said, “I feel bad for all the people that have supported me ... because I know they’re gonna be sad for me, and that stinks to know that. I mean, it’s cool to know that they love and care for you, but it just stinks to know that they’re also gonna feel really sad, and I really can’t do anything about it.”
Kennedy said she plans to remain in Charlotte with her fiance, Eric Lane, and – if she continues to improve in the pool – would like to try to make the Olympic team again in 2020.
(Though college-aged swimmers would seem to have a physical advantage over swimmers in their 30s – and Kennedy will be 32 at the time of the 2020 Trials – it’s not out of the question. The most shining example of age defiance: At the 2008 Games, Dana Torres competed in the 50 free and on two relays, and won silver medals in all three events. She was 41 at the time.)
“Nothing is changing. Fortunately or unfortunately,” Kennedy said. “As long as my arms and legs don’t fall off, I’m still swimming.”
The Summer Games will be held Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.