By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Allison Schmitt followed up the 2008 Olympics with five medals – including three gold – in London. The University of Georgia star returned to school for her final year of eligibility (she had trained at NBAC for the year leading up to the Olympics) and is now getting ready for NCAAs. She talks about what this incredible 18 months have been like in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. First things first, how are you?
Allison: I’m good. I think I am definitely getting back into it now. When I first got back here (to Athens), it was definitely a big adjustment and I can say I was quite tired. Now I am getting back into it, with school and swimming and training hard.
2. How smart was that decision to train at NBAC, looking back on it now – you must be pretty sure the one-year hiatus was the right thing?
Allison: I am, 100 percent. It was hard to decide to leave school even though I knew I was coming back. It was hard to pick up and leave for a year. I was comfortable going to a place where I knew a dozen people, a place I had never lived before. It was hard to make the decision, but I knew what I needed. I knew in a year looking back, I didn’t want to have regrets. And I have no regrets. It’s nice to be back in school. But looking back makes me laugh – it was a lot of fun. And a lot of training!
3. How did you feel this time heading into Olympic Trials?
Allison: I feel like I was pretty confident the whole year. I remember going 1:55 at Texas I think, and a reporter asking me why I tapered for this Grand Prix. I was like, “I didn’t taper.” It made me think, “I am going these times when I am not tapered, imagine what I can do at the end of the season.” I had that confidence going in. Having it be my second time (at Trials), and my second time in Omaha, I felt confident.
4. So Trials went as well as you hoped?
Allison: Yes, because I made the team! That’s all I had as a goal, to make the team – we have so many fast, talented female swimmers in this country. Doing so well in the 100, which wasn’t my best event, but falling short of making the individual 100, it was overall bittersweet. But I was definitely happy; aiming for top six and getting top 3 was an accomplishment.
5. What were the Olympic training camps like?
Allison: Those were amazing experiences. The team was awesome, the atmosphere was awesome. I felt like that team was so close. We all got along, and we felt comfortable with everyone. That led to success. We were able to stay loose and rely on each other in relays. I think that’s part of the reason we were able to swim so well – we fed off each other’s energy.
6. Did you learn from 2008 for 2012?
Allison: I think I still had a little bit of that taste in my mouth where I hadn’t done overall as well in Beijing as I wanted, though I am thankful for the chance. I talked to Bob Bowman about it, and getting 9th in the 200 in Beijing…that was not a feeling I ever wanted to repeat. I felt a lot more confident going into it, and I knew what to expect – that helped me a lot.
7. You had a big swim program in London, how did you manage that?
Allison: I just took it swim by swim. The 200 was my third event, I think. The finals of the 200 I was just sitting there getting ready, and several important people from Baltimore (NBAC) were sitting there – Michael (Phelps), Bob (Bowman) and (strength coach) Keenan (Robinson). Bob looked at me and said, “Swim this smart. You know how to swim it. You’ve got the strongest legs out there. Don’t use it all in the first 50.” I had swum with them all year. Hearing that confidence that they had in me, I was like, “OK, I can do this!”
8. What was it like working with Keenan at NBAC?
Allison: He definitely helped me with my strength. We did weights and drilling. I think he gave me a lot of confidence in my dryland. I’m not always (laughs) the heaviest lifter. Him telling me I can do it…I remember when I first went to him for dryland, we were doing circuits, and he said, “Do 10 pull-ups.” I said, “Keenan I can’t do a pull-up.” But he worked with me and helped me, and by the end I was doing 3 sets of 8 pull-ups. That was easy for me, because of Keenan. Just him working with me every day and giving me the motivation, and I knew I could do it with that motivation.
9. Do people have to ask how many medals you won in London – is it hard to keep track of them all?
Allison: I don’t get that (laughs) question too often! I do always know how many – it’s five. It’s kind of funny looking back. But what I remember are the experiences, and the friendships I get out of it rather than the pieces of hardware.
10. What a year of memories, right?
Allison: It definitely was. The whole year was, really. Everything fell into place, and it was a great experience all the way around. I definitely could not have asked for more, and I got more than I expected.
11. You did train with Michael, Bob and Keenan before, but it was at Club Wolverine when you were in high school – so how was living in Baltimore?
Allison: Baltimore is different from anywhere I have lived before, and it was the first time I had even lived that close to a big city – I had always lived in a small town or further away from big cities. So it was definitely different, but Baltimore was a great experience, and amazing city. Plus I just felt comfortable right away swimming with Bob and Michael.
12. What made the experience with this Olympic team so special?
Allison: I think a lot of that had to do with the team and atmosphere we were in. Having that close knit team, and having those experiences with such great people, that had a lot to do with it too.
13. Your siblings are all great athletes too – I see your sisters in their college hockey games – boy, did your parents raise kids who love to achieve their potential in competition, or what?
Allison: A lot of it (laughs) in terms of the family, is friendly competition! It’s definitely in our genes. It’s just great to have that support. I remember looking out from the podium in London, and I could see my teammates – these most amazing friends in the world I could have hoped for – cheering for me, and then I looked into the stands and saw my parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and that support just made it more exciting for me. Seeing them all crying in the stands made me realize how lucky I am to have them with me.
14. Training with Michael Phelps again – now, all these years later, does it register to you more than anyone how incredible his talent and drive are?
Allison: It’s pretty amazing – I still don’t think I realize how great of an athlete he is just because I see his personality and we get along so well. He’s done so much for me. I remember swimming with him, and he was spraying water in my face, the guy who had already won something like 18 Olympic medals! It’s funny because he’s the same person no matter how many medals he has won. He is also a great motivator, and helped me get to where I am today.
15. The list of top coaches you have swum for – how do you describe that?
Allison: I’ve definitely been lucky in that sense, to have started off with great coaches at the age-group level, then move to Club Wolverine with Bob and Urbie (Jon Urbanchek), and then (Georgia Coach) Jack (Bauerle) and the staff at Georgia, and then going back to Bob – I have definitely had the greatest coaches in the world. What’s also a great blessing is being able to swim with all the teammates I have had, starting off as the youngest at Club Wolverine and having them all look after me and making sure I did everything right – having those nine people look after me and watch. Then coming to Georgia and having so many great friends; on the girls and guys team, it’s like a huge family. It’s always a fun time, in practice or out of practice. In Baltimore it was a smaller group, but having five of us was a great experience. Having those groups makes it easier to train.
16. Did you miss Athens?
Allison: Oh yes, of course! I came back a few times to visit. Each time I felt like I had taken this for granted for three years and that I had to appreciate it more. That year away put things in perspective, and I was lucky I was able to come back and enjoy my last year. People said, “Isn’t it hard to get back into school?” It wasn’t because I missed it! I also knew what to expect, and I came back motivated to get my degree and be successful in the classroom.
17. Back to your sisters for a minute, I saw you on the ice with them – so you support them like they support you?
Allison: It’s exciting to have siblings in other sports and be able to watch them and what they do day in and day out. I have so much respect for what they do. I get a little bit jealous watching my sister play hockey – I always wish I had played hockey, because it looks like so much fun. But they put in the hard work and they have earned good results. I am so proud of them. \
18. I was teaching the other day and had a map up and thought of you, and wondered if you have ever put pins or flags on a map or globe about everywhere you have been both domestically and around the world?
Allison: I’ve actually in the past year, been traveling a lot. Halfway through I was like, “It would be kind of cool to see how many places I have been,” because I never kept track of it. I never really thought about doing that on a globe, but I think that’s a good idea. I used to play with a talking globe, where there’d be a place and you’d have to name the city and country, so to do that with where I have been would be kind of cool.
19. The relays on that Olympic team – you love relays as it is – but to have Missy, college teammates, established legends, rising stars, what was that like for you?
Allison: I think the whole group on the women’s team – and the men’s – was just amazing. Being able to be on relays, to be on all three relays, was an experience I will never forget. The bonds that we have from those relays, and every time we got to stand on the podium – we would interlock hands and smile so hard. We had the biggest smiles! Those are pictures and memories I will never forget. Those experiences … I am so lucky to have those with those people.
20. What has swimming taught you about yourself?
Allison: It’s taught me a lot about myself, and about time management. Since I was a little kid, my parents instilled in us the values we needed – to finish our schoolwork first and to stay true to our commitments. We had to work to complete each task before we could start something else. So the values our parents instilled in us as little kids, those helped us grow and develop as we moved out into the world and were shaped by our teachers and classmates, teammates and coaches. With the help of all those people, I have become – I hope! – a much more mature person today. And I am definitely proud of where I am today, and excited for the future. But I wouldn’t be here without the support of all those family members, coaches, teachers, classmates, teammates and friends.