August 13, 2016 3:32:12 pm
Late bloomer Maya DiRado won two golds, a silver and bronze in her first and last Olympics, capping the final meet of her career with a stunning upset of triple gold-medalist Katinka Hosszu in the 200-meter backstroke Friday night.
Hosszu had beaten the 23-year-old American in two earlier events at the Rio Games, winning the 200 and 400 individual medleys while DiRado claimed bronze in the shorter race and silver in the longer one.
DiRado turned the tables in the backstroke after closely chasing the Hungarian in the next lane throughout the race. She out-touched Hosszu at the wall, winning by six-hundredths of a second.
DiRado gasped upon seeing the scoreboard, her brown eyes wide open.
“That’s all you can ask for in that last 50 is to be in a battle for a gold medal. I was just thrashing my body as hard as I could, my legs totally seized up,” she said. “To look up and see the ‘1’ next to my name was just so unreal and I can’t believe that I did it.”
DiRado hit the wall so hard at the finish that she broke a fingernail. She didn’t grab the lead until just before the wall, when Hosszu’s arm came back high as she tried to touch.
“It was not a good touch, obviously,” Hosszu said. “That’s all I had and she was better today.”
Besides a complete set of gold, silver and bronze, DiRado is taking gold in the 4×200 freestyle relay back home.
DiRado started swimming at age 6, made national teams and incrementally improved, but it wasn’t until the last two years that she stamped herself as a medal contender.
She won a silver in the 400 IM at last year’s world championships in Russia, and gold and silver in the IM events at the Pan Pacific championships in 2014.
After the greatest week of her swimming career, DiRado is retiring from the pool and eager to start the next phase of her life with her husband.
The couple plans to travel to London and Paris after the Olympics, allowing DiRado to ponder calorie-laden meals in the French capital, including how many croissants she can devour without consequence.
She graduated from Stanford with a degree in management science and engineering, and she admits that spending the last two years as a professional swimmer hasn’t exactly taxed her brain. The daily routine of practice, napping and watching TV bored her.
That all changes next month when DiRado reports to Atlanta for her new job as a business analyst with McKinsey & Company, a high-powered management consulting firm that once employed Chelsea Clinton. Her fellow BAs have been cheering her from afar.
“To go out with a high will be the perfect way to end my swimming career,” she said. “It’s absolutely a dream come true and beyond what I ever hoped for out of this.”
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