London • While the rest of the country was groggily shaking off its late night and marveling still at the spectacular Opening Ceremony, swimmer Rafael Alfaro was …
Well, already finished.
The 20-year-old junior-to-be at Brigham Young University was among the first competitors at the London Olympics on Saturday, and also among the first to be done. His swim in the 400-meter individual medley at the Aquatics Center lasted less than five minutes — nowhere close to qualifying for the finals — but that was still long enough for him to marvel at the grandeur of the Olympic experience.
“I was just overwhelmed by the huge crowds and the huge roar when I walked in,” he said, shaking his head just a little. “Amazing, really. But it was especially distracting. I didn’t swim well. … Didn’t really get my head in the race the way I should have.”
“It was a great experience, though,” he said.
Alfaro was the Cougars’ best swimmer in the 400 IM last season, and representing his native El Salvador. He hadn’t achieved the qualifying time necessary to assure his entry, but was invited by the international governing body for the sport as the best swimmer from his country — just like college teammate Andrew Rutherfurd, who will swim the 100 freestyle for Bolivia on Tuesday.
That meant Alfaro had the third-slowest time in the field entering the race, and his finish in 4 minutes, 35.80 seconds would have been the slowest of all 37 swimmers if not for Qatar’s Ahmed Atari, who chugged home to you-can-do-it cheers nearly a minute later.
“I’m just happy to be here, really,” Alfaro said. “I train hard, practiced as much as I could.”
Besides, he was able to march in the Opening Ceremony — a thrilling honor that his uncle, former Cougar and 1976 Olympian Piero Ferracuti, insisted he experience, even if it did mean not getting to bed until nearly 1 a.m., just nine hours before his race.
And however strange it might feel for Alfaro to be finished with his Olympics when they are really just getting started, he was grateful that his parents, brother and sister were able to attend. Now, they can enjoy some other events and the city of London without any anxiety or pressure before heading home Aug. 2.
“Just try to enjoy the rest of our time here,” Alfaro said.