LONDON -- On the first morning of the rest of his life, Davis Tarwater sat in the Omaha airport, eating a greasy pizza. A spot on the United States Olympic swim team had eluded him yet again, and he had decided his career was over.
And then, just like that, it was not.
Michael Phelps had decided to withdraw from the 200-meter freestyle relay. The top six swimmers in the event make the U.S. team. Tarwater had finished seventh, so he inherited the spot vacated by Phelps.
Tarwater had missed the U.S. team by two spots in 2004, by one spot in 2008 and by one and two spots in different events this year. He made the most of his second chance on Tuesday, swimming the second-fastest leg of the U.S. relay in qualifying for the 800-meter freestyle relay.
“I just kind of internalized before the race that my dream is coming true,” he said. “I swam that race a million times in my head for the last 20 years. To have the chance and finally come out and participate in the Olympics is surreal.”
Tarwater, 28, did graduate study at Oxford and said he was tickled to swim before American and British friends. He sounded almost elated by the chance to swim in front of 17,000 people.
“My heart was pumping so intensely that I was trying to calm myself down,” he said. “Standing on the blocks, waiting to take the exchange, I was just saying, calm down, breathe, breathe. I’m still trying to come down from it. It’s such a rush.”
Tarwater is unlikely to swim in Tuesday night’s final, but even swimming in the preliminaries makes him eligible for that long-awaited Olympic medal. The U.S. might substitute all four swimmers, with Phelps is expected to swim in the final.
Tarwater would not say whether he would retire again, this time for good.
“I’ll make that decision when the meet is over,” he said.