RIO DE JANEIRO — A year ago, Maya DiRado was not even thinking about the Olympic Games. The Stanford graduate had won a silver medal (in the 400 individual medley) at the 2015 world championships. But it was time to move on. She already had a job lined up.
Until her coach, Greg Meehan, convinced her to swim for one more year.
And oh, what a year it’s been.
In the women’s 200-meter backstroke on Friday night, DiRado, 23, won her first individual gold medal in 2:05.99 ahead of “iron lady” Katinka Hosszu from Hungary (2:06.05) and ahead of Hilary Caldwell from Canada (2:07.54).
It was the final competitive swim of DiRado’s career, and she hadn’t yet absorbed the feeling of winning her first — and last — Olympic gold medal in an individual event.
“This whole day has been kind of crazy,” she said. “It’s all these last things that I’m about to do, my last warm up with the girls in the training pool today. I wrote my parents an email this morning to say thank you and started bawling on my bed.”
Usually a medley swimmer, DiRado calls the 200 back her “fun third event” — a race that usually does not make her nervous.
It’s DiRado’s fourth Olympic medal at the Rio Games, tying her with Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky for most medals won so far by U.S. swimmers at these Olympic Games. Among female American swimmers, only Natalie Coughlin, Missy Franklin, Allison Schmitt and Shirley Babashoff have won more at the same Games.
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DiRado won an Olympic silver medal in the 400 IM on Saturday night, then took bronze in the 200 IM a few days later. She also helped the U.S. women win the 4x200 freestyle, giving her an Olympic gold medal. She plans to give one of her Olympic medals to her parents and another to her alma mater, Stanford University.
Franklin, who holds the world record in the 200 back, did not qualify for the final.
The Olympic Games is DiRado’s best swim meet ever.
“I just wanted to get another medal, and my teammates all day had been like, eluding to this is going to be good, you’re going to surprise yourself,” DiRado said. “So for me to be able to deliver and be part of this incredible team and incredible week, I’m so honored and privileged.”
DiRado is not going to bask in Olympic glory for very long. She and husband, Rob Andrews, are leaving Rio before the Games are finished to vacation in Paris. Then she begins her job as a business analyst for McKinsey & Company on Sept. 9.
Has anyone asked her to reconsider her future?
“People that I don’t know and who don’t know me are like, ‘Why would you stop?’” she said. “But no, this is the perfect way to go out.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn is in Rio covering her fourth Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.