By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
A familiar face was missing from the 2013 U.S. World Championship team. But to think 2008 and 2012 Olympic medalist Allison Schmitt had an “off year” would be absurd, especially considering she also helped lead Georgia to the NCAA Championship following her incredible successes in London. The time off since World team trials has allowed “Schmitty” to recharge, refocus, and as always, share a few laughs and smiles with her family and friends – which she also does in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. How’s it going?
Allison: I’m good. I’m at Georgia finishing up my last semester of coursework.
2. A silver lining in finally having some down time after Club Wolverine, 2008 Games, Georgia, NBAC pre-London, 2012 Games, NCAA 2013 title for Georgia?
Allison: Oh I guess so. That’s the way to look at it now. It was tough at the time to not make Worlds. But it is what it is and you can’t change it. You make the best of the situation. You take some time off.
3. What did you do?
Allison: I went home. I wasn’t on a schedule at all. I just did what I wanted to do.
4. How did you process it?
Allison: This summer gave me some time to reflect. Everything happened so fast and I went onto the next team, the next year, the next challenge. That time off though has let me know that more than ever I want to keep on swimming, and I have more goals now.
5. Which includes?
Allison: I will go back to (the Olympics in) 2016 and repeat or do better than I did in 2012.
6. That 2012 Olympic team, looking back now how much fun was that?
Allison: It definitely was special and the relationships and bonds that were created are just incredible. It’s fun to reunite and see them again. It’s definitely something I won’t forget. It’s still kind of hard to explain in words how amazing that group of people was – and is.
7. Isn’t that wonderfully odd, for a team to be “fun” on that kind of stage with that kind of pressure?
Allison: It was fun. I think what happened was that the whole team just really came together and had fun. Rather than thinking about swimming and worrying about swimming, we just had fun with it, and it worked out for the best.
8. You must’ve taken great pride in seeing your amazing Georgia teammate Megan Romano excel in 2013?
Allison: That was definitely exciting to see. I was so happy for her. She’s one of my best friends. It was hard to see last year in 2012 (Romano was seventh in the 200 free, missing the team by one spot), but the way she bounced back was great this summer. She’s still in her prime and she can continue swimming in 2016 and past that. There are more amazing things on the way for Megan.
9. How about another Georgia teammate, Shannon Vreeland – her diverse interests and unique outlook, how special is she?
Allison: Yes, Shannon is definitely an interesting person! It’s so great to see her as a senior now because as a freshman she had the funniest quirks. She can always make us laugh. She’s just one of a kind.
10. For the run-up to 2012 Trials, you went and trained at NBAC, and came back for your senior year a year later at Georgia – and won a title in 2013, how’d that feel?
Allison: It definitely was a special team at Georgia, coming out with a National Championship was a cherry on top of everything. That’s what I came back for, for the team, and to win a National championship. The whole process was fun. It was different than the first three years, coming back to a team where I hadn’t swum with the freshmen or sophomores (who were freshmen the year before when she was at NBAC) yet. Looking back, it was a year I won’t forget. It was like a family. We definitely became close and it worked out in the end.
11. To go from 2008’s Olympic success to even more in London, and then win a title – like a Hollywood ending to that chapter of your life?
Allison: It was definitely exciting and a lot of fun. I wouldn’t go back and do it any other way. It’s definitely an accomplishment for me, though I don’t even know how to put it into words. Definitely like you said, kind of a Hollywood ending.
12. So then you don’t make the 2013 team – which in hindsight you needed a break after seven years of nonstop competing – but how much did that really affect you to not go to Barcelona?
Allison: I was disappointed at the time but I can’t dwell on that or just sit there and cry and feel sorry for myself or have other people feel sorry for me. I decided to turn it into a positive. I went home, saw my whole family, and saw friends I haven’t see in a while. I took it as time to regroup.
13. You still get stopped wherever you go for the NCAA title and the Olympic medals, don’t you?
Allison: It’s actually still makes me feel good when people say congratulations on the Olympics or winning the National Championships because people (laughs) see the good times rather than the bad times.
14. Georgia winning that title, in your last time, after all the domination from Cal and the other schools – how important was it to give that incredible school and Jack Bauerle another banner?
Allison: You’re going to make me cry! That definitely was such a great way to go out. We have come close so many times, and were second in so many years. To clinch that title and win with that team we had was definitely fun. I’m definitely proud to be a Georgia Bulldog.
15. So did Romano really cry when she figured out you all had clinched the NCAA title – that’s like Mount Rushmore melting, isn’t it?
Allison: Oh my gosh (laughs), yes! I remember Megan and I were sitting next to each other after the 200 fly, and Jack walked by, and I said, “So, are we going to win?” Jack said, “Yes” and we both started crying. He was so stunned to see the reaction (laughs) that he came over to us, and said, “Hey, is everything okay?”
16. You mentioned earlier that you are aiming for 2016 – is the focus there already three years out?
Allison: Yes. I am back in the water now, so I have my eyes on that. I think that having time off has put some perspective in that I want to keep swimming, and I have fun with it. But yes, 2016 is definitely what I am looking forward to now. You know, representing your country is something that just means so much to you. We have so much talent on the women’s side now, that it makes it mean that much more to swim with that American flag on your cap; the competition is so strong, that just getting to those meets, and knowing all the depth you have around you, is just a great feeling.
17. Speaking of talent, what do you think of Katie Ledecky’s development and how incredible has this young woman been?
Allison: I remember watching the 800 at the Olympics, and she took it out faster than she went in the 400 at Olympic Trials, and I was like, “This girl is flying!” So it’s been awesome seeing her continue to progress. I am so happy for her, she deserves it. We trained a little bit in the same group before London, and you can see that she definitely puts in the hard work and has earned everything she’s got now.
18. How about Missy Franklin swimming in college?
Allison: I am definitely excited to see that. I know she had a hard decision between going to pro and going to college, and I am happy she went to college. She joined Cal, a school that has such a great team atmosphere and she will love the great college atmosphere – and swimming NCAAs is different than anything she has experienced, so that will be good for her.
19. You also made that choice after your success in 2008 – no regrets.
Allison: No, of course not. It was the best decision. The only good choice for me. I’m just glad she chose college because it’s such an important part of your life to grow and develop, move out on your own, learn about everything academically, and become an adult around your peers working toward common goals. I mean, looking back from 2008 to who I am now, I am just a completely different person from when I came to Georgia. You grow up so much in those four or five years, and make bonds that will last a lifetime. I know the people I am friends with now will be in my life 50 years from now – we’ll still be calling each other, making jokes with each other. I’m just so glad Missy chose that path.
20. What has this journey been like from Club Wolverine and NBAC, through two Olympics and Georgia for you?
Allison: I have been very lucky and fortunate to have great teammates. I remember leading up to 2008 I was a little timid, and I could look up to these amazing people, “Wow, this is so cool, there’s Chris DeJong, Peter Vanderkaay, Michael Phelps, Kaitlin Sandeno, Davis Tarwater,” and on and on. And then Georgia and NBAC, and the two Olympic teams, and all the (international) teams along the way. Even now these people at Georgia, like Megan and Shannon, are the most amazing people I could ever hope to meet in life. And I get to call them friends. Good friends. I’ve also had the best club coaches and college coaches in the world. They are all so similar and yet all so different. I think having Bob Bowman at a critical time gave me the push I needed, and having someone like Jack Bauerle and the staff here got me to my potential, to reach in some cases even higher goals than I dreamed of. It of course all starts with the family, and the support I have from my parents and (siblings). But what this sport and these people have done for my growth has helped me push myself to chase my dreams. Sometimes I need that extra push or that extra encouragement to keep going, and with the character level of the people in my life and their need to overachieve, I never have to look far to get even more motivated.