By EVAN CRAWLEY
NORTH KINGSTOWN—For the 100 or so people on hand at North Kingstown High School Saturday to watch Elizabeth Beisel swim in the 400-meter Individual Medley at the London Olympics the final 50 meters of her swim was absolutely grueling.
It was suspenseful enough watching the former Skipper trail by half of a body length to China’s Ye Shiwen coming off the final turn but what made viewing the race even more thrilling was the quality of the internet stream.
“I was nervous,” said event organizer and recent NK graduate Bryan Flanagan. “You could feel the energy in the room.”
Beisel finished second in the race to Shiwen — who obliterated the previous world record in the event — but for those watching from the NKHS cafeteria Saturday the race’s conclusion would not be seen.
As the time for Beisel’s race approached problems with the stream made it questionable as to whether or not those on hand would be able to watch the NKHS alumna compete at all.
“It was very difficult with the live feed obviously,” said NK Chamber of Commerce director Martha Pugh, “because there are too many people in the country trying to stream all at once.”
As the estimated 3:11 p.m. start time for the race came and went, Flanagan and NK swim coach Leslie Becki came to the front of the high school cafeteria to address the crowd.
“I think that’s when Bryan and I started taking over to try and give them play by play,” Becki said. “Fortunately we didn’t have to do that.”
Luckily the problem with the live feed was corrected just as Becki began to consult her iPad for race results and Beisel was in the water for the butterfly leg of the race when the video began streaming.
After trailing through the first 100, Beisel did what was expected and pulled ahead during the backstroke and breaststroke portions of the IM.
As the former Skipper took the lead, the crowd in the cafeteria roared with pride and excitement but their cheers would turn to shock entering the final 50 of the freestyle leg.
The crowd’s astonishment had little to do with the race itself though as once again the internet connection stalled at the race’s conclusion.
“We had gotten so excited that seeing it end like that we were all like, ‘oh no, it was so close,’” said Kelsey Brown, who was a freshman on the NK swim team when Beisel was a senior. “It was a real big build up to have not much of a climax to it.”
When the feed resumed moments later, the race had ended and the confused crowd glared at the screen in attempt to discern what had happened.
It quickly became apparent that Beisel had not won the race but when results flashed on the screen showing that she had captured the silver medal the crowd once again ignited with applause.
“I am so proud of her,” Flanagan said. “Even if she came in last she made it to the Olympics again and that’s a big feat. As long as she had fun that’s all that matters.”
During the applause after the race a shout emerged from the crowd that effectively summed up the thoughts of those on hand; “No. 2 in the world and No. 1 in our hearts.”
For those at Saturday’s viewing, the event was less about results and more about coming together as a community to support one of their own on the world’s greatest stage.
“It’s a wonderful community event and brings people together,” Pughe said. “Liz is an absolutely wonderful young lady and we’re here to support her and her family.”
The gathering itself was somewhat of an impromptu decision as it came about just a week and a half earlier when Flanagan entered the Chamber of Commerce building to purchase a ‘Team Beisel’ T-shirt.
“I bought a team Beisel shirt and I was like, ‘you know what, I am one of the co-captains for the North Kingstown swim team so why not do something giant for her as a swimmer,’” Flanagan said, “and I put this event together.”
From there Flanagan worked with Pughe to get the event off the ground.
“He was saying it would be so much fun [to organize an event] and I said that would be amazing,” Pughe said. “I just kind of helped him and guided him through the process of renting the room and so forth.”
Even with the technical difficulties Flanagan, Pughe and all those on hand still left the cafeteria with smiles on their faces and a sense of pride with how Elizabeth Beisel represented her home town in London.
“It was great,” Brown said. “Seeing Elizabeth up there was just fantastic because she was part of the team and to see her get to that stage was just such hard work.”