LONDON - Up until Sunday, Rachel Bootsma's first Olympic experience had exceeded her very high expectations. When it finally came time to race, though, she learned that losing hurts just as much when it happens on her sport's grandest stage.
Bootsma, of Eden Prairie, finished 11th in Sunday night's semifinals of the women's 100-meter backstroke at London's Aquatics Centre. Only the top eight advanced to Monday's finals. With little energy left after her standout performance at last month's Olympic trials, Bootsma finished the semifinals in 1 minute, 00.04 seconds, .01 slower than her time in Sunday morning's qualifying heats.
Flooded with anxiety in her first Olympic swim, Bootsma's times were well off her personal best of 59.10 seconds set at the trials. Her friend and teammate Missy Franklin did make the finals, clocking the second-best time in the semis behind Australia's Emily Seebohm. Seebohm set an Olympic record of 58.23 in the preliminaries, then led the semis with a time of 58.39. Franklin swam a 59.12 in the semifinals and a 59.37 in the prelims.
Bootsma will stay in London through Sunday. Less than two weeks later, she will leave Minnesota for her freshman year of college at the University of California, where she will swim for Olympic coach Teri McKeever. She already is looking forward to moving on, but that didn't take the sting out of two performances that did not meet her standards.
"Obviously, I'm really disappointed,'' Bootsma said. "But it was my first Olympics.
"My legs probably needed more rest. They didn't feel like they had a lot of energy. I can't change it, though. It's OK.''
All of the U.S. swimmers faced a challenge in preparing for the Olympics after putting everything they had into the Olympic trials. The American talent pool is so deep that many believe the competition to make the team is as tough as that at the Olympics. The trials ended July 2, leaving little time to recover from one grueling meet and prepare for another.
During the three weeks in between, the U.S. team trained in Knoxville, Tenn., and Vichy, France. Bootsma came to London in a flurry of nervousness, excitement and exhaustion -- and her event came early in the meet.
In Sunday's preliminaries, she worried she would swim the first 50 meters too fast, as she felt she did when she finished second to Franklin at the trials. Competing in a heat with world record holder Gemma Spofforth and Russia's Anastasia Zueva, who has the second-fastest time in the world this year, Bootsma said she might have held back too much. Her time of 1:00.03 was the 11th-fastest in the field, which got her into the semifinals but left her surprised and dissatisfied.
She tried to relax as much as possible through the afternoon. That was not enough to restore Bootsma's spark, as she finished sixth of eight swimmers in the second semifinal heat.
Last week, her mother, Jan, said she wished she could have just a half-hour before the Olympics to sit on the couch with her daughter. She knows this has been an emotional time. Rachel is close to her family -- and to the family cat, Rosie -- and has been traveling extensively this year. She has precious few days to spend with all of them before the next major transition in her life, as she moves to Berkeley and begins college.
Jan wanted to give her a hug and tell her everything was going to be great. Rachel needed the hug more than ever Sunday night. But she already understood how great things were, and are, and will be -- and that the unhappiness about her performance is temporary, while the memories of her first Olympics will last forever.
"It was an amazing experience, with or without how I swam,'' she said. "Hopefully, moving forward, it will give me motivation to keep working hard. And hopefully, things will go up from here.''