When she traveled to compete at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Elizabeth Beisel was just 15 years old.
The youngest member of the U.S. Olympic Swim team, she swam the fastest time in the preliminaries of the 400-meter individual medley.
In the final, she was pushed off the podium, finishing fourth. She barely missed the podium again in the 200-meter backstroke, finishing fifth.
Still, Beisel’s time in Beijing set the table.
In London, she feasted.
Again, Beisel, 20, swam the fastest preliminary time in the 400-meter individual medley. It took a world record swim in the final from China’s Ye Shiwen to keep her from a gold medal.
With a time of 4:31.27, Beisel finished second, earning a silver medal.
“Got a little sloppy there in the third quarter of the race,” Gators coach Gregg Troy said. “But it was her best time. We’re not going to scoff at a silver medal.”
Troy, who also coached the U.S. men in London, was a comforting figure for Beisel.
When she participated in Beijing, her personal coach wasn’t there. It was then the relationship between her and Troy began to bloom.
“To have him in London with me really made me comfortable with the situation I was in,” Beisel said. “Four years ago, I didn’t have my personal coach with me, so it was coach Troy that took me under his wing. So for me to actually have him there again this time around was really nice.”
However, the fun didn’t stop there.
Coming into the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., her expectations beyond the 400-meter individual medley were mixed. While she hoped to earn a spot in the 200-meter backstroke, there was no level of assurance.
However, after watching teammates Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer punch their tickets to London, Beisel looked to add her second event.
“Seeing them do well is what made me want to do well,” she said. “I swim with them every day. They are two of my best guy friends on the team, I hangout with them all the time outside of the pool, so to see them do well, it’s just really inspiring.”
Troy, smiling, offered a more explicit account of Beisel’s reaction to Lochte and Dwyer earning spots in London.
“She jumped up and down,” he said. “A few expletives that we had to work with her on.”
She eventually added the second event to her program, the 200-meter backstroke.
Five days after earning the silver medal in the 400-meter individual medley, Beisel improbably had made her way to the 200-meter backstroke final.
She collected her second medal of the Olympics, earning a bronze medal with a 2:06.18 swim in the final. Missy Franklin, the 15-year-old sensation from Colorado, earned the gold medal.
Afterward, the two joyfully embraced, both realizing what they had just accomplished for their country.
The moment is something Beisel won’t soon forget.
“It was the medal ceremony and the national anthem was playing,” she said. “I just got chills thinking about it. I can’t really compare it to anything. It’s such a surreal moment.”
When she returned home from London, Beisel had reached full rock star status in her native Rhode Island.
Deservedly so. She was she was the only Olympian from the state.
“When I went home, it was like mayhem. Everybody sort of knew about me,” she said. That was a little weird. I would be recognized everywhere I went.”
More than three weeks later, things have started to return to normal.
She is back in Gainesville and back in the pool, working with her team.
Despite the international acclaim, she is just a junior, with two years of eligibility remaining. That means two more years to add NCAA Champion to her list of tremendous accomplishments.
No matter how the rest of her career pans out, Beisel will always have 2012 to look back on. The year she conquered London.
“Coming out of London, coming home with two [medals], is so cool,” she said. “It was really a dream come true.”