MESA, Ariz. (AP) Olympian Claire Donahue is in search of a new place to train barely a year before the Rio Games after her coach lost his job at Western Kentucky when the school’s swimming and diving programs were suspended for five years.
Donahue said Friday she plans to follow coach Bruce Marchionda wherever he ends up after his job is eliminated on June 30. The 26-year-old swimmer graduated from the school in Bowling Green, Kentucky, four years ago and has continued to train there.
The timing couldn’t be worse, coming four months before the world championships in Russia and just over a year before the Rio Olympics.
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”He’s been an amazing coach,” she said at a meet in a Phoenix suburb. ”He’s good about making the best decision for me and what’s going to be best for my future. Olympics are coming up quick and I want to perform well there and he has all that in mind.”
Donahue cried while discussing the sanctions handed down by the university following an investigation of hazing incidents and violations of Title IX sexual misconduct and assault policies and the student conduct code.
”To hear this is very shocking,” she said. ”I don’t think anybody was expecting the entire team (to be suspended). A lot of people are saying like why are the women’s team being cut and a lot of people are questioning that.”
Besides Marchionda, who just completed his 10th season at WKU, the jobs of assistant Brian Thomas and diving coach Chelsea Ale were cut. A complaint by former WKU freshman swimmer Collin Craig led to an investigation by police and Title IX coordinator Huda Melky that discovered evidence of violations.
”If anything like that happened, I think punishment should happen, but it seems very big and people are very quick to judge,” Donahue said. ”I know this team very well. I’m with them every single day, multiple times a day. It’s sad to see an entire program be cut from a few people’s actions and it’s very one-sided, which is very, very upsetting for most of us.”
Craig complained to police in January that he had been assaulted and harassed on several occasions dating back to August, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press via open records requests.
Donahue choked up at the prospect of swimmers heading in different directions to find new programs.
”We’re a family and this is my family,” she said. ”It’s hard to see.”
Donahue became WKU’s first Olympian to win a gold medal in 2012. She swam in the preliminaries of the 400×100-meter medley relay at the London Games, helping to qualify the U.S. for the final, which it won.
”I’ve had an amazing support system while I’m there,” she said. ”It’s very sad that I have to move away from my home where I’ve been for eight years.”