Claire Curzan needed less than five years to turn a childhood Olympic dream into reality — and she did it while still a high school student. A Cary native and rising senior at Cardinal Gibbons High in Raleigh, Curzan, 17, is among the youngest U.S. Olympians in Tokyo.
Her time there as a competitor ended on Saturday night — Sunday morning, local time in Japan — and ended before she’d hoped. Curzan finished in 10th place in the semifinals for the 100-meter butterfly, the event in which she has routinely shattered national age group records in America.
Curzan finished the semifinals with a time of 57.42 seconds. She missed finishing among the top eight swimmers, who advanced to the final, by less than three-tenths of a second.
Curzan finished third in her heat in the prelims, swimming the two lengths of the pool in 57.49 seconds. That was good enough for 10th overall in the preliminary round, in which the top 16 advanced to the semifinals.
After qualifying for Tokyo with a second-place finish at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, in June, Curzan arrived in Japan with particularly high hopes. Her coach, Bruce Marchionda, said during a recent interview that Curzan’s goal for the Olympics was to finish the 100 fly in 55 seconds, which would’ve set a world record.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that she can go much faster than she’d been at trials,” Marchionda said.
At trials, Curzan finished in second place with a time of 56.43 seconds. She qualified for Team USA by the narrowest of margins — a little more than one-tenth of a second. When she returned home, to Cary, a small neighborhood parade awaited. Neighbors, dressed in festive attire, greeted her with small American flags and chanted “U-S-A, U-S-A!”
And at the Triangle Aquatic Center, where Curzan has trained for the past seven years, little kids lined the pool when she returned home and waited to give her five. Curzan was back for about a week before departing for Hawaii, where the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team team trained before leaving for Japan.
Curzan is one of two Americans who raced in Saturday night’s semifinal, joining Torri Huske of Virginia. Huske had the second-fastest time in Heat 4 of the prelims, finishing in 56.29 for the fourth-best qualifying time. Saturday, she finished third in the same semifinal Curzan raced in with a time of 56.51 and advanced to Sunday’s final.
Though Curzan missed the final, she remains one of the rising stars in American swimming. She won the U.S. Open last November with a time of 56.6 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly — a time that made her believe she could qualify for the Olympics. She has yet to decide where she’ll attend college, and said recently that she plans to compete during her senior season at Cardinal Gibbons, where she has set numerous state and school records.
In preparation for the Olympics, Curzan swam about 42,000 meters per week — or a little more than 26 miles. Her time in the pool, she said, often served as a release.
“Being able to come back to a designated area where I can work on myself and not focus on the drama of life and focus on getting myself better, how I can make my stroke better — it really just helps calm me,” Curzan said during a recent interview. She was already hoping to make it to another Olympics, even before her first.