By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
All we’ve watched Elizabeth Beisel do the past six years is… everything. A two-time Olympian at just 21 years of age, after her double-medal performance in London, the Florida Gator is headed to her final NCAAs with the Florida Gators. She talks about where the journey has taken her, what it’s been like, and what the future might hold in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. Seriously, wasn’t it just yesterday you were telling me about hoping to learn a lot at the 2008 Olympic Trials?
Elizabeth: It’s so scary! I can’t believe how fast it went by. That’s such a cliché thing to say, but you go into college, and think that it will last forever, but it goes by so quickly. So take in every second and every moment.
2 It’s that fast, isn’t it?
Elizabeth: We met as a team (at SECs), and when it was my turn to speak, that’s what I said, how fast it has gone by. It has been the quickest four years of my life, but the most fun four years of my life.
3. Not a bad run for you from 2008 until now?
Elizabeth: I definitely fit in a lot of things during that time! Everything I have done coming back from Beijing, visiting schools, coming to Florida, competing in the SECs, my first NCAAs, went to Worlds, went to the Olympics, it’s just crazy! And that’s not even counting all I did with (Club Coach) Chuck (Batchelor), which has been a huge part of any successes I have had.
4. Finaling in Beijing – while not a medal, that certainly was not a disappointment, right?
Elizabeth: No, not at all. I was happy in 2008 when I got fourth and fifth. I came back the next year at Worlds (and earned Bronze in the 200 back), had a good meet at 2010 Pan Pacs (two golds, the 200 back and 400 IM), and then learned a lot more in Shanghai (gold in 400IM), and it all fit together. But as far as medals, I have never added them up. The process of getting better each swim is enough to focus on!
5. But that time at the Olympics in China, didn’t that shape you in some key ways?
Elizabeth: Yes, I think 2008 in hindsight, is one of the reasons I am the swimmer I am today. Getting fourth is a little bit like a burn because you always want to come home with some hardware. But fourth and fifth, when I was 15, really came at a good time in my development. Now, at this point in my life, I appreciate what I was able to do when I was younger.
6. And after the Olympic finals at China, you probably didn’t come back worried about pressure?
Elizabeth: It’s definitely something that helped me keep my composure in the finals of all these events at Olympics, NCAAs and Worlds – at the time though I didn’t think (laughs) it was going to help me this much!
7. And London, to win two medals after a pretty grueling couple of years, how rewarding was that to stay on the podium as you had in 2009, 2010, and 2011?
Elizabeth: Oh, I was so happy. London was honestly the best time out of all of our lives regardless of whether you medaled, because even if you didn’t have the best meet, you were surrounded by these incredible people. We have a group text and we’re always pushing for a reunion of that team. Meets like that with those kind of people make me glad I am still swimming. To be at a competition of that caliber, the best swimmers in the world, and be surrounded also by the best people in the world, makes it worth it, always.
8. You have still never mentioned gold, silver or bronze, just the people, why is that?
Elizabeth: It’s definitely, in my mind, more about the friendships. When you take a group of 26 or however many girls, and you are the top 1 percent in the world at something, that’s a pretty special bond heading into it. And then to find out they are even better people than they are swimmers, that is just a gift, something to cherish, and memories to be thankful for the rest of your life. These are the real friends I will take with me into the rest of my life, and I could not be more thankful for that.
9. Watching Sochi I thought about you and several of the people who understand what an amazing experience it must be to a be a two-time Olympian, or is that correct?
Elizabeth: It’s weird because I don’t ever really like to think about it like that because I like to stay as humble as possible because that makes me a better person and a better swimmer; but yes, (laughs) I did watch every minute of Sochi. And at one point they were talking about this athlete and how they were a “two-time Olympian” and I looked at the person and thought, “Wow, they must really be something,” and then I started laughing and thought, “Hey, I am a two-time Olympian too!” That is so weird!
10. What a great relationship you have with Florida Coach Gregg Troy and club coach Chuck Batchelor, and how well they have worked together, wouldn’t you say?
Elizabeth: It really is, and I am so thankful for it. In terms of swimming, and how I developed as a person, I would not be anything without Gregg and Chuck, and I am very fortunate to have everything they offer at my fingertips.
11. I know the last title was in 2010, just before you got there, but how much do those amazing NCAA meets mean to you, and what’s that experience like?
Elizabeth: It’s an experience that honestly you can’t ever prepare yourself for. Not all of my NCAA meets have been incredible – I have gotten DQ’d, and been last in a final – and by (laughs) a lot during my freshman year. I was DQ’d my sophomore year. But I have still managed to win as well (200 back in 2012, where Florida finished third). It means so much to represent something that is so much more than yourself. The nerves and pressure for that meet are like nothing else. I am hoping to end this on a high note (2014 NCAAs), because I have never really been satisfied with my performance there.
12. Still only 21, but looking back at all the National Teams since you started on it as a young teen, and wow, you’re a veteran now, correct?
Elizabeth: It’s so weird! I was always, always, always the little girl on the National Team since 2006, and I felt like everyone was looking at me! The tables have turned, and I am also a captain at Florida. I remember in Coach Troy’s office, him telling me how the freshman look up to me and what I am doing. You have to set an example for the younger people.
13. How about the teammates you have had down there, how cool is that?
Elizabeth: It was cool. I was lucky enough to have so many people for me to look up to. Teresa Crippen is one of the greatest leaders I have ever worked under, and I carried the lessons I learned from her as a team captain this year; I am not very vocal and I lead by example. To me, that is important, because people learn more by watching you than listening to you. All the great leaders here, Ryan Lochte and the others, I have been lucky to be around from them, and I have taken things they taught me and things that they have done well and I carry those in my toolbox.
14. So NCAAs and then a pro swimmer?
Elizabeth: For sure, I am having too much fun with it right now to stop swimming. I have the best set up at the University of Florida, so there is no way I would leave or anything, because I am having too much fun with it right now. I don’t know if I will swim past 2016, but if I am still loving it and swimming well and my coaches and I think it’s working, I will keep swimming.
15. What was your swim career like when you started?
Elizabeth: I started swimming competitive pretty early, I think I was 6. And I think when I was 9 or 10, I was breaking age-group records. Once I started swimming for Chuck, my career, for lack of a better term, really took off, and I made Pan Pacs, and the Olympics. I think I was maybe ahead of the curve at one time, but it never came easy. I never missed a practice; I was very dedicated as a young kid, but I had great friends to do it with, so that kept it fun.
16. How do you stay so positive?
Elizabeth: It’s for sure hard to stay positive all that time. I’m not superhuman, and I am not going to swim well every time I race. There are times when I am upset and people can see it. But Coach Troy says that being negative is like a disease, that when one person has it, others will catch it and it will bring everybody down. Especially being a leader now, I have to watch what I am doing, and make sure I am positive. Even if I am not swimming great, someone else is doing something amazing, and I want to be there to celebrate with them. And someone else is not swimming maybe as well as they want, so I have to be there to pick them up regardless of how I am feeling. It’s just being a good teammate and friend.
17. That run after Beijing where you medaled at every international meet, where does that kind of consistency come from?
Elizabeth: I think it’s just that I always want to compete to the best of my ability. And every time you do that, you have to realize there are so few chances you get to race against the best in the world. I am so glad I took those meets as seriously as I did. Had I not medaled in 2009 at Worlds, I probably would not have medaled at Pan Pacs in 2010. And had I not medaled at World Championships in 2011, there was no way I would have believed in myself enough to win an Olympic medal in the 400 IM a year later. You take those meets, and they set you for the next upcoming years.
18. Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky – how do you explain to people the amazing things they are doing?
Elizabeth: Oh, it’s awesome! Look at what those two have done for our sport in just two or three years, Katie more so the past couple of years, but Missy has been doing it since 2010. It’s just so cool, and it makes it even more competitive. It was tough for me last summer not making the 200 back, but I get to watch Missy break records almost every time she swims, and the same thing with Katie. They are great ambassadors for our sport, and for the next generation of swimmers. They have proved it does not matter how old you are, you can do anything you properly prepare for. And it’s great that they are even more amazing as people, and that they are Americans so we get them (laughs) on our team! They are both just such genuine, great girls who have an amazing, positive attitude as well. The media, teammates, and coaches all love them. They are leaders, whether they know it or not. They help guide us where we need to go. They don’t just do it as vocally yet, they do it by example.
19. Coach Troy has really been a good fit for you, hasn’t he?
Elizabeth: He is really is 100-percent perfect for me. He’s like a dad, best friend, coach and he is honestly more than I could ask for. Going into school at first, I was very nervous and a little wary of what my relationship would be with him, because I had such a great relationship for so long with Chuck and I could talk to him about anything. At first, Coach Troy was a little intimidating. I was actually worried about that (laughs) at first, and I called Chuck and he told me things would be fine. Over the years, we have developed a better relationship than I could have asked for, and having that clear kind of communication helps you swim faster. The life lessons he has helped me learn are things I will use for the next 50 years, and that is the part in my mind that makes him one of the most amazing coaches in the world.
20. What a career, and more left – it’s gone by so fast, yet you are so young, still excited?
Elizabeth: You know it’s funny, because I don’t think about the medals that much, and then you run through them today and it seems like a lot. But there are also times when I didn’t medal, and that’s all right too, because that part of it – medaling – is not the whole part of it, though it is a part of it. I am not always the girl winning all the awards and medal. You know what I like? Being on teams with great people. Like walking Schmitty out of the ready room (in London) and watching her win gold – that makes me feel as good as when I win a medal. To be able to share such meaningful experiences with people I adore and respect, that’s where the real value comes into it for me, and those are the memories that will make me smile, and make me proud, for the rest of my life.