Hampton grad Flanagan emerges as Atlantic 10 swim medalist for Duquesne

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Thursday, February 27, 2020 | 11:44 PM


Two years ago, Clare Flanagan was left off Duquesne’s competition team for the Atlantic 10 swimming championships. So the possibility of medaling in her career was incomprehensible.

Even last week, she never thought it was possible. The mindset only changed when she finished third in the A-10 prelims.

“I’ve been in consolation and championships heats before,” she said. “But it never occurred to me I could place high enough to earn a medal. After finishing third in prelims, I thought, ‘Hey, this is a reality that could happen.’ ”

Not soon after, the junior was on the podium at the Spire Institute in Geneva, Ohio, getting a bronze medal for the 200-yard backstroke. Not only did it happen, but she made it interesting.

“I was told it was a very exciting race,” said Flanagan, who admitted her voice was still rough from screaming so loud at the meet. “Going into the last 50, I think I was seventh. I ended up taking the last 50 faster than everybody else. Nothing is more on brand for me than that.”

Flanagan, whose time was 1 minute, 58.21 seconds, was proud of the recognition from her coaches and teammates, but the ability to surprise herself possibly was the most special part.

A state qualifier for Hampton, she did not approach college athletics with the highest of competitive aspirations.

“My freshman year, I came in more or less like, ‘Yeah, I guess I’ll swim,’ ” she said.

“Picking a college wasn’t contingent on me swimming. It’s education. But I’m happy to do both, and this is kind of cool. I’ll get a great support network out of it and see what happens.”

What happened was Flanagan eventually was sat down by coach Dave Sheets and told she would be left off the championship team at the 2018 conference meet. That meant she would still swim in the 200 backstroke preliminary event but could not accumulate points for the team. It was a decision she didn’t disagree with given her season performance.

However, she clocked a time of 2:02, which would have placed her in the top 15 out of the 35 competitors.

“I surprised myself and everybody else with what I was capable of doing,” she said. “Dave and I sat down and said, ‘OK, well, that was unexpected.’ They thought I had a lot of potential and could be really good.”

That prophecy came true. Flanagan has knocked 10 seconds off her 200 backstroke time since her freshman year. As a specialist who isn’t placed in many relays, she will go into her senior season as one of the favorites for Atlantic 10 gold in the event.

The two who finished ahead of her are both seniors.

“Fast forward to now, from not having a score my freshman year, not being on a conference team, to medaling, it’s a testament to how much I’ve grown with the program and the hard work I’ve put in,” she said.

Flanagan didn’t quite make the NCAA or National Invitation Championships.

“I swam very fast but not fast enough,” she said. “Those times are bananas quick.”

She will have plenty of work on her hands as a biomedical engineering major with graduate school aspirations.

Last summer, she spent time working on cancer research for the National Science Foundation at the University of Florida.

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