LONDON — Kirsty Coventry swam her final race on Friday, quite possibly the last one in her remarkable Olympic career and Zimbabwe’s Golden Girl could not come away with even a bronze.
Coventry, a seven-time Olympic medalist, is a former University of Texas graduate assistant coach who has been living and training in Austin this year.
She entered the women’s 200m backstroke final as the two-time defending Olympic champion and world record-holder.
She left the pool as neither; Colorado teenager Missy Franklin won the gold in 2 minutes, 4,06 seconds.
Coventry, who finished sixth, was almost as bubbly as Franklin about the teen’s record.
“I think it’s awesome,” Coventry said. “It just means that women’s swimming is getting better and better every year. I was so proud to be in the event racing her instead of sitting there watching TV.”
Coventry made the final in her three races, but did not medal after winning three in the Athens Games in 2004 and four in Beijing four years ago.
“I’m a little sad that I didn’t get on the podium, but at the same time I gave it my best, and I feel good about that,” Coventry said.
It has been a tough year in the pool for the 28-year-old Coventry. A dislocated knee and a 10-day bout with pneumonia in May cost her valuable training time.
Then there was the turmoil at the University of Texas, where Coventry’s personal coach, Kim Brackin, was let go as the Longhorn women’s swim coach. Under Brackin, Coventry had been an assistant coach from 2006 to 2009.
The pair then trained at Mabel Davis District Park in East Austin and with Nitro, a club team.
In 2004 and again in 2008, Coventry was a symbol to her troubled nation. People in her country found hope in her triumphs in the pool.
They walked for miles to see her on television.
They named babies Kirsty and Coventry.
Some even named children after her medals or her strokes.
While competing for Zimbabwe, Coventry didn’t have the luxury of picking up medals on relay teams. Her seven medals — two gold, four silver and one bronze — are all from individual events.
By way of comparison, the US’s most decorated swimmers on the women’s side — Natalie Coughlin, Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson — all have 12 career medals. Many of those came as part of relays.
Coughlin has five individual medals, two gold and three bronze.
Torres won four individual medals, one silver and three bronze. Thompson captured only two individual medals, a silver and a bronze.
This year, Coventry, at her fourth Olympics, was picked as Zimbabwe’s flag-bearer, which she called an amazing honour.
“It meant so many things, being able to be so proud of my country,” said Coventry, who will return to Zimbabwe for a couple of months after the Olympics. Her family has chosen to remain there, and she’ll start a foundation promoting youth sports.
“I’m really excited about that,” Coventry said. “I’m excited about focusing more on life after sports and trying to figure exactly what I want to do, if I can balance that with still trying to be an athlete.”
Although it’s been reported that she’ll retire from swimming, she’s not so sure.
“I’m kind of torn,” Coventry said. “I think if I’d had the perfect season leading up to this, then I would have felt more comfortable saying I’m done.
“But knowing the things that I’ve had to overcome, and knowing that I still believe there’s something else in me, I might keep going.
“I’m just going to enjoy the rest of the Olympics and take time to think about everything, and then go from there.”