By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Hard to believe that Elizabeth Beisel has been around – and so successful – on the international swimming scene for so long, and she only turned 20 in August. The proud Florida Gator – and two-time Olympian – talks about the two silver medals she won in London, and how she feels heading into the next quad, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. I thought without any question you had one of the top three or four performances in the world at the Olympics – did it feel as good as it looked to do two personal bests after your outstanding five-year run up to 2012?
Elizabeth: Oh absolutely. It was sort of a surprise to medal in the 200 backstroke, just because my 200 backstroke has not been that good. So to come out with a medal in that was almost more exciting than the first medal, in the IM.
2. How did Beijing set you up for this?
Elizabeth: Having experience under your belt is one of the luckiest things a swimmer can have. That has helped me a lot the past few years, and then again in London. Being in Beijing helped me know what to expect in London. It has been so great to be on the National Team since I was (laughs) a little kid. I have been able to watch Michael Phelps make history and Ryan Lochte do amazing things – I have been there the whole time.
3. You are part of a generation that is redefining swimming and taking it to new levels – what is that like?
Elizabeth: It’s crazy! You sort of need to sit back sometimes and take it all in and see what your teammates are doing, and how amazing they are. I have two Olympiads under my belt, and you look at Missy Franklin, who could have at least three or four. Then I look at Michael and Ryan, and what a tremendous job they have done for the sport. It will be a long time before we are all able to take it in, but it will be so nice to reflect on that. There are definitely a lot of great swimmers who have done a lot for the sport, and for me to even think I can be included in that is an honor, and very humbling.
4. Gregg Troy and Florida – what kind of a run has that man put together down there, both domestically with the NCAA title, and coaching the Olympic team with the great swimmers he helped produce?
Elizabeth: I think it is a true testament to the way Coach Troy runs the program. I came here to be a long-course swimmer, but we also won an NCAA championship. For me to have that, be part of this incredible team and go to such a great school – I just can’t thank Coach Troy enough for that.
5. Would the “little” kid pre-National Team version of you believe what kind of run you have had the last five years?
Elizabeth: I don’t (laughs) think “little Elizabeth” would have believed any of that! It’s crazy thinking about Worlds, NCAAs, the Olympics, and all the other National Team trips. It’s definitely been a long road already for where I am in my life. But I am here because I have fun and love to race. I’ll definitely be around for another four years. I don’t know about after that; I might be a little old (laughs) to swim a 400 IM.
6. I was talking to Maddy Crippen earlier in the year, and out of the blue she brought you up and how much you mean to her family – how much did being so close to Teresa at Florida, and getting to know the Crippens, mean to you?
Elizabeth: Oh, I can’t even put into words how amazing that family is. Teresa has been so good to me. She is my best friend. She was the one who was always next to me the last two years training. She was actually down visiting for alumni weekend (two weeks ago). Just seeing her was so nice. She was always there for me.
7. Maddy said specifically you were a great friend when we lost Fran – if it’s not too personal, can you share what you saw in that incredible family during that time?
Elizabeth: That’s what it really is about – that family’s strength, and how much everyone means to them. When Fran passed, I tried to be there for Teresa. That family is just such a collection of outstanding, unbelievable people. Teresa is one of the hardest workers I have ever met. Seeing her in the “real world” now is hard for me, because I miss her on the pool deck. But knowing her work ethic is second to none, she’ll be very successful.
8. Not even 21, and you’ve seen so much of the world?
Elizabeth: I know, and that has been so cool. The places I have been – I have literally been around the world. Sometimes, I do wish I could have taken more of a vacation. In Beijing, all of us who were under 18 were sent home when we were done, and I would have liked to have seen the Great Wall. But the number of places I have been able to go is insane! In high school when we first got back after summer, they’d start out in school with where you went that summer, and I could answer “Beijing,” “Singapore,” or “Australia,” – and many had never left the state. The opportunities swimming has brought me are amazing. I try to not take it for granted and realize how special it is
9. You really seem to enjoy your life outside the pool – correct?
Elizabeth: Absolutely. It is different for every person – some people need to be extremely focused – and while I am focused, I need to have a life outside the pool. That keeps me sane and keeps me loving swimming. If I didn’t make time for friends and going out, I would go crazy and start to not like the sport as much. In Florida, our team is like a family, but we also go to the beach and things, so that balance makes it more interesting and keeps us motivated.
10. Were Trials harder this time, or in 2008?
Elizabeth: Oh, this time around Trials were so much harder than last time. This time I had this expectation on myself, because if I made it four years ago when I was, what, 15 or 16, I should definitely make it this time when I am 19. I was crying before my 400 IM!
11. And there isn’t any sort of guarantee at Trials, is there?
Elizabeth: There really isn’t. It is in the back of your mind that something could go wrong, and it’s hard even thinking about it. All of that though is part of what makes Trials a very special meet.
12. You saw what Dana Vollmer went through in 2008 at Trials – in terms of the feeling going into it, you must have been able to relate to that pressure?
Elizabeth: It’s amazing what Dana did – and you could see it on her face at Trials. When she made the team, she had a look that was a mixture of relief and excitement. That was eight years of work for her since she did not go in 2008. Anyone on the team can appreciate and respect that kind of adversity; she faced that letdown, didn’t let it get to her, and break world records. She is awesome. I don’t know that I could have gone four years if I missed making the team, that would just be so hard – that she did it, and the way she did it, was so incredible.
13. Some people didn’t medal who we thought would, and some people either didn’t make the team at all or were in reduced roles – then how does the U.S. women’s team perform so well in London and become the dominant team on the planet again?
Elizabeth: I think the women’s team was facing sort of a transition period. It’s going to be amazing in another four years, because it really will be another whole new group. There will be some veterans, but the great young talent – Lia Neal, Katie Ledecky, of course Missy Franklin – are stepping up, and you saw them step up at the biggest meet in the world in London. For sure, this is an exciting time for the women’s team at USA Swimming. We have good leadership, and the young talent is inspiring – and fast.
14. Was the team as close as it appeared to be?
Elizabeth: Oh yeah, and I think this year was probably the most fun I have ever had on a trip because we were all so close. That “Call me maybe” video – that was what the whole camp was like, having so much fun. The men’s team was that way too, and we were that close as a group. Speaking of which, I want to congratulate Peter Vanderkaay again, because he is one of the nicest guys and hardest workers in the sport, and also Conor Dwyer and Ryan Lochte – the Florida swim team was well represented and performed outstanding in London. To see Ryan and Conor do so well meant a lot to me on a personal level – I took a lot of pride in that. Ryan’s first medal, in the 400, was the most exciting part of my night – and that was the night I got my 400 IM medal!
15. So you are a big believer in team chemistry, even at the Olympics?
Elizabeth: It can’t be overlooked at all. Maybe some of us didn’t have our best swims, but everybody brought something to the table, whether they were behind the blocks or in the crowd; we are known for being loud in the stands and cheering, but to me that’s one of the coolest things about our team. I was introduced for the 400 IM, Beisel, USA, and I heard this roar! Knowing these amazing people care about you makes you want to do your best. It means so much just to be there with a group like that.
16. Gregg Troy is finally getting some overdue props, isn’t he?
Elizabeth: He is amazing! He’s so much fun to work with. I have an extremely close relationship with him. He knows when to motivate me and when to back off a little bit. He knows every single swimmer. He knows what works for me won’t work maybe for Conor. He’s one of the smartest people I have met in my life. I miss swimming for (Bluefish Swim Club Coach) Chuck Batchelor. But all three of us stay in touch with sort of a triangulation approach to work together with what’s best for my training.
17. People claiming Lochte wasn’t successful – I get it in some cases where someone flops, but it seems unfathomable to call five medals anything less than spectacular – am I just off base here?
Elizabeth: It sort of disgusts me that people would call it an unsuccessful Games for him. You know, I almost swam Katie Hoff’s program at Olympic Trials, but I was so dead I had to drop something. That’s the thing about trying to do something like that, it is the journey and the attempt itself that defines the greatness. No, Katie didn’t win all the golds, but it doesn’t take away from how great and dominant Katie was in so many events. So yes, okay, Ryan didn’t win gold in the 200 IM or backstroke, but name one person who could have even done that double. I have so much respect for him.
18. Allison Schmitt seems like a good teammate – correct?
Elizabeth: I am always really excited to see Allison Schmitt. She was my roommate the whole time and we had fun – we were always causing trouble (laughs) together and laughing. That’s the thing about Golden Goggles, I am looking forward to seeing everyone in NYC. We all get in this little post-Olympic depression, where you almost have withdrawals from missing each other so much, and when we get together, it means so much.
19. Allison brought it in London, didn’t she?
Elizabeth: I swear the only reason I was able to swim so fast was because of Schmitty. In the ready room we would sing – in the ready room area, where all the other teams were! – we would sing out loud and get crazy. All these random songs we were singing…I get so excited thinking about her performances. She’s such an incredible person and athlete, and I have never heard anyone say anything bad about her – she is just loved by all of us.
20. Saw you at the White House with Michelle Obama shaking hands – she looked like she fit in with you all, could she hang in an IM, you think?
Elizabeth: Oh my gosh, her arms look better than mine. That was so much fun. Another funny Schmitty story, we saw people going up to the podium where President Obama was going to speak, so we decided – Allison and I – that we wanted to get up there and get a picture, too. We went up there and got pictures, and all of the sudden these Secret Service guys were all over the place, and we had to go – every time this team gets together, no matter where we are, we always get the best memories just because of how much we care for each other.