The 24-hour redemption of Emily Overholt

One final breath. Five excruciating arm strokes. With an Olympian raging back at her 17-year-old Emily Overholt reaches for the wall. The roof blows clean off.

400 IM gold. A Pan Am record. A Canadian record.

The teenager is effusive during a television interview minutes later, blissfully unaware a dreadful process is unfolding at the official’s table feet from where she is standing.

The details of a disqualification are being reported. Overholt is pulled away from the camera by a team official and shown the scoreboard. Lane five. Non-simultaneous touch. Emily Overholt.


“It’s unfortunate,” she understates, much later, after helping a Canadian relay win bronze. “Ummm…yeah…there’s nothing I can do about it,” she’s pausing a lot, to ponder an unimaginable circumstance, and stifle tears. A DQ for not touching at the same time during a race is exceptionally rare in an international final.

Swimming recaps: Day one | Day two | Day three | Day four

Emily Overholt reacts to her final swim in the women's 400 IM.

Emily Overholt reacts to her final swim in the women’s 400 IM.

It would be exhausting to swim the 400 IM then heap on a 200m freestyle relay leg, yet Overholt couldn’t sleep. Emotional, blurry, she struggled on Friday morning in the heats of the 400m freestyle, qualifying in last place. “She paid, and got lucky and got a lane,” said her coach Tom Johnson.

In the final Emily Overholt blasted ahead in the lane nearest to a loving crowd and won.

You can’t buy that kind of redemption.

Canada's Emily Overholt is overjoyed after swimming to gold in the women's 400m freestyle.

Canada’s Emily Overholt is overjoyed after swimming to gold in the women’s 400m freestyle.

“I’m just so happy and so relieved,” she said right after, “I knew I had nothing to lose so I just tried to go for it.”

Some kids have to learn the hard way. “You can fold your tent and go home or you can decide to fight back,” commented Johnson, a long-time Olympic coach who has been coaching Overholt since last September.

Her winning 4:08.42 wasn’t a personal best. She was faster at a meet in California last month. But this was way harder and it could have buried her but instead the swim was ferocious.

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“Being out in front was really important and then I just tried to hold on for as long as possible,” she said.

Champion-like qualities, those. “She can be the best, time will tell” said Johnson. For now, the week of her life ends with a win along with that relay bronze and a silver from the 200m freestyle. Overholt is off to World Championships, a little more experienced.