Elaine Breeden had just swum the race of her life.
Everybody at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb., knew it and understood what the race meant.
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Breeden wasn't so sure.
Immediately after touching the wall and hearing an explosion of celebration, Breeden didn't know if what she was seeing and hearing was correct.
She stared at the scoreboard and thought she saw ”2“ by her name, but she was having trouble focusing her eyes from the exhaustion of the race.
After years of dreaming of this exact moment, Breeden had to be sure.
Her suspicions and hopes were correct — she had just positioned herself for a spot in the 2008 Summer Olympics.
”I have visualized that moment so many times in my career that it was just hard to believe once it happened,“ Breeden said. ”The feeling was just so surreal to have that happen.“
Breeden, a Lexington native and Trinity Christian Academy graduate, placed second in the 100-meter butterfly Monday at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Breeden upset event favorite and University of Kentucky graduate Rachel Komisarz with a time of :58.21 — just a tenth of a second behind first-place Christine Magnuson. Komisarz finished third.
Breeden's finish almost certainly sends her to Beijing. Only first-place finishers at the trials qualify automatically for the 26-member women's Olympic team. Second-place finishers must wait for confirmation until later in the week when the size of the roster becomes clear. Preference is based on world rankings.
That technicality will not delay Breeden's feeling of accomplishment.
Even upon getting out of the pool, Breeden ”never touched the ground,“ said John Brucato, Breeden's former coach at Wildcat Aquatics in Lexington.
”She just had that look of disbelief,“ said Brucato, now a UK assistant coach. ”She knew she had just done something special.
”She was feeling like she was floating 10 feet off the ground because she wasn't sure how she was supposed to be feeling.“
Breeden didn't know how she was supposed to feel, but she had spent countless hours at the Lancaster Aquatic Center in Lexington working with Brucato and the other Wildcat Aquatics coaches in preparation for Monday's moment.
”Growing up, this was always the goal, to be an Olympian,“ Breeden said.
But while most never make it, Breeden and her coaches realized it was a possibility as early as her 10th birthday.
Breeden said she broke her first age-group record when she was 8, and she was ranked No. 1 in the nation in the 50-meter butterfly in the 10-and-under and 12-and-under age groups.
Brucato didn't start coaching her at Wildcat Aquatics until she was 11, but he quickly noticed Breeden was special.
Brucato said Breeden, unlike most kids her age, had the rare ability to focus solely on her own race and getting better, rather than her place on the podium.
Breeden undoubtedly had the talent, and she continued to rake in records at national events. The Stanford sophomore said her biggest accomplishment until Monday was placing first in the 100 and 200 butterfly at the 2005 Summer Senior Nationals. But, even now, she can't believe she can put her name and Olympian in the same sentence.
”It still hasn't sunk in yet,“ Breeden said. ”It's going to take awhile for that to happen, but I couldn't be happier.“
Now that Breeden is assured of a spot on the team, she'll try to also qualify in the 200 butterfly Wednesday — what she called her best event — and the 50 freestyle Sunday.
”It's a big relief to have that off my shoulders,“ Breeden said. ”I've been waiting for this my whole life, and now that I don't have to worry about making the team, I'm going to try to make a few more events.“