Olympic gold medalist and Stanford graduate Maya DiRado was an absolute sensation in the pool at the Rio Olympics. She swam her way to four medals: two gold in the women’s 200m backstroke and 4x200m freestyle relay, a silver in the 400m individual medley, and a bronze in the 200m individual medley.
In the 200m backstroke final, Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu was leading the entire race until the final 25m when DiRado kicked it into fifth gear and charged to the wall for the gold medal win, out-touching Hosszu 2:05.99 to 2:06.05.
DiRado surrounded herself with success in her teammates and coaches leading up to Rio. Her coach, Greg Meehan, was selected as the Olympic team assistant coach. Stanford teammates Simone Manuel and Lia Neal each secured spots on the Olympic roster. Celebrating the success of her swims alongside Meehan and her fellow Cardinals was an emotional moment for all.
As she reflected on her Rio experience with Excelle Sports, DiRado explained how she never expected her phenomenal results and how her decision to retire from the sport after the Rio Games was never contingent on her medal count. DiRado reflected on her unbelievable swims, her teammate Manuel’s historic gold medal win in the women’s 100m freestyle, the lack of sleep and all the emotional moments during this summer’s Games.
Kim Vandenberg: Congrats on your incredible performances in Rio! How was the experience for you?
Maya DiRado: Thank you! It was basically perfect. To get to go there with my Stanford teammates and coach and all the other amazing members of Team USA made it especially wonderful. Training camps were incredible, we had 4,000 people come to watch a practice in San Antonio. I also remember looking around the pool at 11:30 at night in Atlanta thinking how lucky I am to be on a team where these people put their lives on hold for 6 weeks to help make our dreams come true.
Then when we finally got to Rio it was obviously time to perform, but the team and coaches did an amazing job of making sure we used the moment to our advantage. By that, I mean that we used the excitement of the games to elevate our performance, instead of looking at it as pressure and stress. It was incredibly emotional, exciting, exhausting and quite literally unbelievable.
KV: Were you expecting those results?
MD: No! I wanted to medal in all three of my events and I wasn’t even sure I’d be on the relay. We just got our Olympic rings this past week and all the gold medalists have it engraved on the side of their rings. I remember being told at team processing in Omaha that that would be added and thinking, “Ok yeah cool but that’s not happening”. The week went better than I really ever imagined it could go.
KV: What was the most memorable race for you to swim in and to watch?
MD: Days five through seven of the meet were out of control. The day of the relay I got to the competition pool around 1:00 p.m. to just to a loosen after coming off the 200 IM final the night before. I was just preparing for the 200 back prelims the next day, but at 3:00 p.m. when I was back in the dining hall I get a text saying that I was swimming that night. My heart rate skyrocketed so fast and didn’t calm down until maybe the next morning.
Just getting to be on a relay with three other swimmers whom I love and admire was the greatest joy. Then the next night it gets even crazier when Simone won her gold, we absolutely lost it, especially the Stanford contingent. Getting to share that moment with Lia [Neal] and Simone and Greg after grinding day after day with them for two years was cathartic in the best way. Then the next night was the 200 back final where it really got insane. I think from day six till when I left Rio I had maybe 10 hours of sleep total but was absolutely riding this ridiculous high that allowed me to do back to back 12 hour days of media and not die.
KV: Did you get a chance to watch other events and meet other athletes?
MD: I didn’t. I was swimming basically the entire meet and then when I was done it was all media until the night I left. I would have loved to go see water polo or some diving or beach volleyball. I got to meet the gymnasts and see some Stanford athletes around the village.
KV: Did you get to explore Rio and travel around after the Games?
MD: I didn’t. I did get to see Copacabana and Ipanema from afar which were so gorgeous but I didn’t get to do any sightseeing. I’d love to go back though at some point and get to see it from a different point of view.