By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
Claire Donahue is tired of finishing second.
At the past two Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships (2011, 2013) and 2012 Olympic Trials, she has finished as the 100 butterfly runner-up to world record-holder Dana Vollmer.
And while she has the utmost respect for the 2012 Olympic champion and fellow U.S. National teammate, Donahue believes she has put in the time and effort to take the next step and move up a spot at a long course meet in the near future.
Perhaps even this year at the Phillips 66 National Championships in August.
“Finishing in the top two the past three years has definitely been a big confidence boost for me, but I firmly believe it’s important to want more; every elite athlete wants to be No. 1,” said Donahue, who continues to train with her college coach, Bruce Marchionda, and the team at her alma mater, Western Kentucky University.
“As far as training goes, I think I’ve been doing everything I need over the past year to perform well at big meets like Nationals. I want my training to have put me in the best position to not worry about the race and be able to just swim. I’m feeling really good and confident.”
Another obstacle Donahue has been perplexed by during this time is her performances at big international meets like World Championships and the Olympics.
She swims well enough to earn a spot in the finals of the 100 fly, but when she actually competes among the final 8 swimmers, she finishes in the bottom two and out of medal contention.
“It’s definitely been an obstacle for me, but I always want more, and with each year and meet, I feel better prepared to push myself to crack that barrier,” said Donahue, who was seventh at the 2012 Olympics and eighth last summer at Worlds.
“It’s one of my bigger goals, and I feel like, if I swim well at Nationals and make the Pan Pac and 2015 World Championship teams, it’s doable this year.”
No stranger to pressure and expectations (from herself, not outside influences), Donahue said she is well aware that this year’s National Championship meet carries extra implications.
This meet has special circumstances in that both the 2014 Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championship and World Championship teams will be selected.
Bottom line is if you swim poorly and miss making either or both teams, you don’t get a chance to compete at a national-level long course selection meet again until 2016 Olympic Trials in Omaha.
“I’m going to be competing in a couple of meets several weeks before Nationals, and I believe that will help get and keep me in good racing form before I taper,” Donahue said. “Competing at meets that close to a big meet will still give me and Bruce time to analyze what’s going well and what I can still spend time tweaking and working on for Nationals.
“It’s happened before where a top swimmer didn’t have a great Nationals and missed out on the big meets before Trials, and I don’t want that to happen to me. There is a lot riding on this meet, and it’s important to be and swim at your best or the next National team you make could be the Olympic Team.”
A few weeks ago, Donahue showed symptoms that she might be suffering from mononucleosis, which would have put her out of training and competition for several weeks if not months and jeopardize her chances of making this year’s National Team.
It turned out to just be strep throat, and she’s back training and preparing for Nationals.
“I dodged a bullet of sorts there; funny enough, I’m lucky to only have strep,” Donahue said. “But thinking that my chances of swimming this summer and making Pan Pacs and Worlds might be over really gave me perspective about how much making big international teams means to me at this stage of my swimming career.”
In her view, no one knows her and knows how to motivate and get the best out of her like Marchionda.
She said she can’t imagine training anywhere else with anyone else.
“He gets me; he knows what works for me, what the best program is for me,” Donahue said. “I love working with Bruce because he’s always trying new things, methods, whatever, to help me get the best out of my training and swim well at meets. He’s a very big reason I’m where I am right now in the sport.
“People have asked me why I don’t train at a bigger post-grad program (she is the only one at Western Kentucky) like SwimMac or Cal, but this feels right for me. Always has. I have a great team of swimmers to train with and amazing coaches, and it just seems silly to leave.”
With Nationals just over a month away, Donahue said she will compete in an annual meet in Nashville – one she does every year – and another meet nearby called the Summer Sizzler to hone her racing skills.
Regardless of what happens between now and Nationals, she said she is ready to race and ready to prove she truly belongs among the elite butterfliers.
“I think I’ve truly become a student of the sport, and that has helped me raise my game and improve year by year,” said Donahue, who comes from a very athletic family. “In the past, I’ve gone through the motions, but now I’m breaking down my training, paying special attention to technique, eating right – everything you need to do at this level.
“It’s all given me a much different perspective, and that has helped with my mental attitude as well as my physical advancement. I feel more ready than ever, and I’m excited for Nationals.”