Franziska van Almsick failed in her mission to bring home gold. The 26-year-old Berlin swimmer once again felt the dream slip out of her reach. A fifth place in the 200 meter freestyle was all that remained.
It was another disappointing Olympics for Franziska van Almsick
She was the first out of the water, paddling around just long enough to look up at her time and ranking on the screen: 1:58.88, good enough for fifth place, nothing more.
Six lanes over, the newly crowned 200m women’s freestyle gold medalist Camelia Potec of Romania was crying. Hers were tears of joy instead of the bitter ones Germany’s top swimmer Franziska van Almsick will shed over the final missed chance at gold in her final Olympics.
"I failed once again under the expectations," she said after the 200m women’s freestyle final on Tuesday evening. "I’m always better when nobody expects something from me."
That would have been hard to avoid. Van Almsick holds the world record in the event, and has been the gold-medal recipient in waiting since she captivated Germany and the rest of the world by winning silver at the Barcelona Games in 1992. Then she was just 14 years old. Now at age 26, the winning time in Athens was more than a second slower than the 1:56.64 Franzi swam at the Championships in Berlin in 2002 -- light years away in swimming terms.
"I can only laugh about the time," she said. "I was almost swimming in my own tears."
How many of Germany’s swimmers could say the same? While enjoying none of the star power of Michael Phelps and the US Team or Ian Thorpe’s Australians, Germany was nevertheless expected to put on a good show in the pool.
Almsick told the media she was upset with her performance
Four days into the Games, Germany has had four serious medal chances, and made good on none of them. First, it was the women’s 4 x100m relay, where Germany finished fourth, two seconds off of winners Australia. Van Almsick’s final leg was the slowest of all her teammates.
Then, it was Hannah Stockbauer, another German medal favorite, who somehow failed to qualify for the finals of the 400m freestyle, an event in which she is a world champion. The disappointing trend was continued with Antje Buschschulte, who came in only sixth in the 100m backstroke, an event in which she was gunning for a podium spot.
"We are going through rough waters that is clear," said Ralf Beckmann, the head coach of Germany’s swim team. "We aren’t getting the results we hoped for. I’m not going to try and gloss over the results. This is a disappointment."
The German women will still have a chance to bring home medals. Wednesday night is the women’s 4x200m relay. Stockbauer is a strong contender in the 800m freestyle, the heats of which begin on Thursday. On Friday, the German women will try and make it into the finals of the 4x100m medley relay.
Strong start, but faded fast
Franzi can still look forward to another chance
But gold is most likely gone for Van Almsick. She was off her form in Athens and she knew it.
She wore headphones as she walked in the line of finalists up to the starting blocks. While other swimmers were limbering up and windmilling their arms, she flipped down her goggles and stared straight ahead and at her feet.
"Hopefully this will all be over soon," she later recounted telling herself.
Franzi started strong off the blocks, and was second after the first leg. After the second, she had managed to edge into first. But then faded on the third, letting Frederica Pellegrini, the eventual silver medalist, France’s Solenne Figues, who won bronze, and Potec slip ahead of her.
As she made her final turn, Franzi's energy seemed to ebb from her. Not just the three others, but Poland’s Paulina Barzycka edged ahead of her during the final 25 meters.
"The entire day was horrible," she confessed after the event. "I prepared myself for two years for this moment and it’s over so quickly."