Indiana University swimmer Margaux Farrell didn’t need a bronze medal to create a lifetime memory at the Olympic Games. She was sitting with French teammates, watching France upset the United States in the men’s 400-meter relay freestyle relay.
“That was something we felt as a whole. The bleachers were shaking, everyone was screaming,” she said. “I had no voice by the end of it. That’s probably my favorite race for the rest of my life.”
Farrell’s morning race Wednesday allowed her to become a bronze medalist at night in the 800-meter freestyle relay. She was decorated for the part, with fingernails and toenails painted in the red, white and blue of France’s drapeau tricolore. The United States set an Olympic record of 7 minutes, 42.92 seconds, followed by Australia in 7:44.41 and France in 7:47.49. Although Farrell was not in the final, those in prelims receive the same medals.
Farrell, 21, of Woodbridge, Conn., has dual citizenship. She is IU’s first female swimmer to earn an Olympic medal since Jennifer Hooker, who earned silver in 1976 for the U.S. team, also in the 800 freestyle relay.
Farrell’s second leg of 2:00.06 was the slowest of four swimmers in prelims, although the French easily qualified. The outcome extended a breakout performance by France, whose bronze was its sixth swim medal of these Olympics. That equals the country’s total from each of the last two Olympics with three days of competition remaining.
The French have been “like a big college team,” Farrell said.
“I don’t think I did as well as I wanted to do,” she said. “My first Olympics, there were a lot of emotions, a lot of things to take into account. Walking out there and seeing the same amount of people that are at an Indiana basketball game for a swim meet is something we’re not used to having.”
She has felt welcomed by the team even though she was raised in the United States. She spoke French before she learned English and spent summers in France.
“So it’s not at all weird,” she said. “I feel just as much French as I do American.”
Her mother, Sylvie, missed making the French Olympic team in 1976 by one-hundredth of a second in the 100 backstroke. The mother was in the stands to share her daughter’s Olympic experience.
“So she knows the trials and tribulations of high-level sports,” Farrell said. “She always said, ‘There’s more to life than sports. You want to try to do as well as you can in other areas because it’s not going to be that way all the time.’ “
Farrell recently graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism and a 3.84 grade-point average. She was IU’s Big Ten Medal of Honor winner and recipient of a Big Ten Wayne Duke Postgraduate Scholarship Award. She has been filing a blog about the Olympics for the Big Ten Network.
She plans to pursue a master’s at University of Southern California. She said she is not eager to leave Indiana, even though “the crazy culture” of Indiana basketball was an adjustment. Her IU choice delighted her brother, Remi, 16, a 6-7 high school player.
“He posts everything on his Facebook wall on Indiana basketball,” she said.