If Davis Tarwater and Claire Donahue seemed more excited than the rest of the U.S. Olympic swim team Thursday morning at the Allan Jones Aquatic Center, it's because those two had a good reason to be.
If being first-time Olympians wasn't enough, both Tarwater and Donahue have the luxury of training for a week near family and friends.
Though Tarwater, a Knoxville native, and Donahue, from nearby Lenoir City, share a hometown bond, each took a much different path to achieve their Olympic dreams.
Donahue's route was simple. She qualified by finishing second in the 100-meter butterfly at the U.S. Trials, posting a career-best time. It's the event she'll compete in at the London Games.
"It's still sinking in. It's very exciting to be able to go and do this," Donahue said. "The first day I competed right after my race (at the trials), it hit me real hard. Many emotions, huge emotions. First, I was just thrilled and excited and surprised. The past two weeks, it's still been sinking in. The first team practice we had was awesome. That's another time it hit me that I'm apart of the U.S. team when we go to London. I think it's going to continue to sink in over the next two months."
The 28-year-old Tarwater, on the other hand, was content with retiring from competitive swimming after he initially failed to qualify for the U.S. squad at the trials. Instead, he got assistance from a college teammate at Michigan, 14-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps.
Phelps decided not to swim the 200-meter freestyle in London, which, in turn, led to Tarwater securing a spot in the 800-meter freestyle relay.
"It's a great opportunity," Tarwater said. "More than anything, I don't think it validates or invalidates anything that I've done. I would've had a great career if I wasn't an Olympian, but the Olympic experience itself is second to none. To have the opportunity to have the Olympic experience is great. The opening ceremonies, the closing ceremonies, and just everything that goes along with it is what I'm so excited for."
But before the U.S. swim team departs for France on Saturday to train and then London, the two local Olympians get to experience what Tarwater called a "surreal homecoming."
"There's so many parts about this ordeal and I think one of the very cool parts is being in my hometown, being close to family," said Donahue, who swam in college at Western Kentucky. "Being near my hometown is awesome, being able to train at a facility I've been at before and am familiar with is nice."
Still, this week in Knoxville is just the beginning of the journey. Tarwater is excited to take in the Olympics as a whole, and not just in the pool.
"Just being able to take in the diverse range of experiences that are going to be there," he said. "The other countries living in the Olympic Village, eating the Olympic food and seeing how it all works."
And after earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, Donahue had to raise her already lofty aspirations.
"Going to the Olympics was my ultimate goal," she said. "Now that I've succeeded at that goal, I kind of had to look at them again and see what I was capable of, what I can do. We've sat down and there's three goals that I've set that if I succeeded at one of them, I'll be happy. One of them is to get a best time. I think that's attainable. Another one is medal. I think that might be the hardest one, but the most fulfilling, obviously, to come home to Knoxville and WKU and show the medal that I got in London.
"That would just be the ultimate thing. And also, just to enjoy everything. Make sure that I take everything in. There's going to be so much going on in the next month and I want to be sure that I really step back and look at everything."