The time to strike is now | August 2, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - August 2, 2013

The time to strike is now

Stanford's DiRado earns gold medal on relay at World Championships

by Keith Peters

Maya DiRado isn't quite sure what she'll be doing in 2016. Maybe she'll still be swimming or, perhaps, she'll be retired from the sport and using her Stanford degree in management-science-engineering as a member of the workforce.

"Yeah, I still haven't made up my mind about continuing to swim after my eligibility is up next year," said DiRado, who'll be a senior this fall. "I don't know. It's still up in the air and I don't know what the factors are going to be one way or the other."

Her decision might have been easier had she made the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team in 2012 and been able to check it off her competitive bucket list. However, she missed the trip to London following a pair of fourth-place finishes in her best events.

"If I was going to go to the Olympics, it would have been that year for sure," she said. "So now it's like things have to be re-evaluated a little bit."

DiRado knows she has one more year swimming for the Cardinal and "I'd love to get some NCAA individual titles." And, she knows she has this week's 15th FINA World Championships on her plate, which was full with the 200-meter fly, 400 IM and 800 free relay.

"I'd love to medal," DiRado said.

Earning a medal or two this weekend in Barcelona, Spain, and adding some NCAA honors next spring just might be enough to satisfy the 20-year-old from Santa Rosa. Then again, standout efforts just might be enough to keep her in the sport a few more years and give her one more shot at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janerio in three years.

"That's the question," DiRado said. "This is either the starting point of the rest of my career or a very nice feather in my cap to go out on. I'm unclear right now what it is."

What is clear is that DiRado is having the best swim season of her life. In making her first World Championships team, DiRado clocked lifetime bests in the 200 fly and 400 IM. She missed a possible third PR when she was disqualified in the prelims of the 200 IM, "which was really a bummer because I felt really good," she said.

A fifth place in the 200 free earned DiRado a relay berth on the 800 free team for Barcelona, where she swam the prelims Thursday. Her 1:58.48 third leg helped the U.S. qualify for the finals. DiRado didn't swim at night, but earned a gold medal when the U.S. won by nearly two seconds in 7:45.14.

DiRado's only shot at an individual medal will come in the 400 IM on Sunday's closing day. She goes in with the No. 3 time in the world after winning the national title in 4:34.34, holding off a hard-charging 2012 Olympic silver medalist in Elizabeth Beisel.

The victory over Beisel was especially nice, since Beisel had defeated DiRado in the 400-yard IM at the 2013 NCAA championships and prevented DiRado from earning her first individual collegiate title.

"It was very satisfying," DiRado agreed. "At NCAAs, I talked with Greg (new Cardinal coach Greg Meehan) and said I have a winning block. I've been second and third so often that I've forgotten how to win the close races. So, it was really nice racing her and come out on top finally."

The 400 IM victory was DiRado's biggest career win.

"Ever! Definitely," she said.

Which begs the question, why?

One reason was DiRado's second place of 2:09.12 in the 200 fly.

"It was the third time I've done it in two years," she explained. "I dropped four seconds that day, so that was really surprising."

Having earned a berth on the U.S. team in the fly, the pressure was off DiRado for the 400 IM.

"I could just swim my race, rather than racing for a spot (on the team), which was really nice," she said.

And the other reason for her big season?

"I've felt like I've grown into my potential that was there freshman year," she said. "I'm much more relaxed. I feel like I approach swimming even better; it's really fun. I enjoy it and I like doing the training."

DiRado also pointed to an improvement in her breaststroke, where she dropped two seconds during her split in the 400 IM at nationals.

"I've been improving sort of steadily every year, but this (400 IM) finally is another really big drop when it's uncommon to have such a big drop at this level. Finally, all the pieces were there."

DiRado hopes everything will be in place once again this week as she wraps up her busy summer. This will be her second trip to Barcelona, the first time with a USA junior team in 2009.

"I loved it," DiRado said of the site of the 1992 Summer Olympics. "My favorite city I've ever been to."

This meet will be a little bit more important, but yet another enjoyable experience.

"I don't want to make it sound like I'm not taking this serious," said DiRado, "because I am. It's just a different sort of pressure, I guess. Now, you're there. You just perform and go fast. It's not like a do-or-die situation, I guess."

DiRado actually was looking forward to swimming on the 800 free relay team on Thursday night.

"I'm really excited about that because of all the junior teams I've ever been on, I've never been on a relay," she said. "It looks like so much fun and the team gets behind you. I thought this would be really cool."

A medal or too also will be very cool for DiRado, who sees her big year as something to look back on.

"It's not so much life-changing, (but) more affirming of what I'm doing — choosing swimming as sort of my college experience," she explained. "I take all my classes. I really love school but, looking back on my Stanford career, it's going to be swimming is what I did and so it (this season) makes me feel really good — not even just at Stanford but this 14 years or whatever I've been swimming has culminated in that. It's really nice to finally get that at the end of all those years."

DiRado started off her first World Championships by finishing 12th in the 200 fly semifinals on Wednesday in a personal record of 2:08.28. That ranks her No. 12 in the world and No. 2 in the U.S. this season. And, more importantly, it's just a tuneup for what's to come.


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