By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
In 2000 and 2004, one of the best known – and best – freestylers in the world was Lindsay Benko. Now Lindsay Mintenko, the NCAA team and individual title winner from USC is still part of USA Swimming’s great success as National Team Managing Director. She went through camp and the Olympics with the team, and she shares insights and thoughts from those experiences in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. How could this U.S. women’s team be so good – did you see it coming?
Lindsay: The women’s team was amazing. I was just reading some of the stats, and the improvements we made in London are incredible.
2. That was almost across the board, wasn’t it?
Lindsay; It really was. We had so many people rise up to the challenge. We could not have asked for more from this group of men and women.
3. On the women’s team, it was quite a mix of talent, wasn’t it?
Lindsay: You know, it really was, with veterans like Natalie (Coughlin) being a part of it, and up and comers like Missy (Franklin). But you also have Dana (Vollmer), Allison (Schmitt) and Rebecca (Soni), who have been a part of it. Elizabeth Beisel was incredible. Nobody saw the win by Katie (Ledecky) coming either – I could go on and on listing great performances.
4. Schmitty made a bold move to move back to NBAC, but I’ve always thought college students should take a timeout at some point and do something for themselves – Allison really made the right call, didn’t she?
Lindsay: For sure, Allison really delivered. She is so unassuming. You don’t expect Allison, when you sit with her and talk to her, because she’s so unassuming, to just get up on the block and be able to go like that. You just love talking to her, and then she gets up, and goes – she’s a very unique talent, and wonderful person.
5. We were not as dominant, for whatever reasons, the last couple of Games – how unlikely was it that this group would step up?
Lindsay: I think this was a great team, and that’s a big part of it. I think there is a lot of pride in being on the U.S. Olympic team. To be able to step up and race people that have beaten you before, and beat them this time, takes a special talent, and a special gift.
6. I look at some of the final sheets where the U.S. won a medal, and I still see other placings even if we didn’t medal – that’s a good sign, isn’t it?
Lindsay: This team had a good time. We had a lot of events where even if we didn’t medal, we had one or two people in the final. That does give us a good indication of what to expect in the future.
7. How about Katie Ledecky’s record and gold – did her being so young make it that much more amazing?
Lindsay: I think that your age can be a double edged sword; you can be a little nervous going in, or you can be like, “I’m just going to do the best I can.” We did see some amazing things happen at training camp, and I remember watching what Katie was doing and being so impressed.
8. How about Brendan Hansen completing his comeback with a gold and bronze?
Lindsay: That was great to see. Especially with Brendan’s personality, and that he’s such a good guy. To see him get his hand on the wall was awesome.
9. What about Matt Grevers and Nick Thoman going 1-2 – I didn’t see a lot of predictions of that going in, did you – how can anyone ever doubt Matt Grevers?
Lindsay: I definitely knew that we would be in the hunt for two medals in that event. Our backstroke is so dominant right now in the States. It’s pretty special. The passing of the torch from Lenny (Krayzelburg) to Aaron (Peirsol), and Aaron onto this group, even to Jeff Rouse and Brad Bridgewater in 1995 – there is so much tradition for us in the backstroke.
10. As a former teammate, what did Dana Vollmer’s phenomenal effort do for you?
Lindsay: That takes a mentality that not many people have to be able to do that. Dana found that. She is in a very good place in her life right now. Getting married helped her so that she wasn’t totally focused on swimming. Obviously, she is very happy. It just goes back to the old saying, “When you are happy, you swim faster!”
11. How about USC representing so well?
Lindsay: The tradition is alive and well, in a lot of aspects. It’s just great. It’s always fun to see your alma mater do well. I am really happy for (Coach) Dave (Salo) and what’s going on for USC and the Trojans. One of my fondest memories is winning a team title in 1997 with my teammates. There is not much that can replace that.
12. What makes Rebecca Soni such a great person?
Lindsay: She is fantastic, isn’t she? What I like best about her is she is down to earth, honest and truthful. But she enjoys the sport of swimming, and what it has given her and her family. She’s such a genuine person. She looks to all the great people who have come through that program, and it’s important to remember that it’s not just about the medals and titles, it’s about good people. I think that’s apparent at ‘SC, and Rebecca is a great swimmer and ambassador to continue that.
13. How big did U.S. women’s/Cal coach Teri McKeever deliver in London?
Lindsay: You know, Teri is an amazing coach. She gets the female perspective and that makes a huge difference. I think you could see that in London. She wanted the team to be a team, and we saw that on both the women’s side and men’s side. You could see how much they cared for each other.
14. Michael Phelps was a winner in and out of the pool in London – what did it mean to you to see that?
Lindsay: Exactly. Nobody doubted Michael and his ability going into London. He has really grown up through the years. You could see from Trials to the Games how much he appreciated the support he was getting from his teammates, both in and out of the pool. You could really see how proud he was to accomplish all he did. To be on the team with him in Sydney when he was 15 and to see him, though I am in a different role now, has been amazing – I have been at all four Games in which he competed.
15. I love watching Missy Franklin in the water, but I can’t help but think she might even be more amazing as a person – true?
Lindsay: For sure. Missy is going to accomplish a lot of things in her swimming career, but I think what she does outside of the pool is going to make an even bigger impact. She had a blast, and brought so much to this team. There was such a great mixture of people there, from people who have never been there, to people who have been in one two, and three Olympic teams. That made it a nice blend, and put a spark of fun in it for the fourth-time Olympians especially. With so many young athletes and first-timers – even a lot of first time National Team athletes on this Olympic team – it brought a lot of excitement, and you could see it in their faces. But they were still able to stay task-driven, and it was a great dynamic.
16. How did swimming get so much attention at the Olympics – is the athletes being so well spoken and polite part of it? – or is it the winning?
Lindsay: That definitely makes a difference, that we have well spoken athletes, for sure. But to be honest, we have a lot of great personalities. Also, Michael has won the most medals of any athlete from the Olympic Games, and I really think you have to point that out, because Michael has done a lot for the sport.
17. So many people from these teams in the media afterward, and the public is just in love with them – did you see that coming? Nathan Adrian and Matt Grevers are just beloved. Missy Franklin is a rock star, and of course Michael Phelps is already an established legend before even his 30th birthday.
Lindsay: We knew we had a lot of special athletes. I think that is the unique thing. We also have a lot of people who know how to race in special situations. We had a lot of people who had been there before, and some who had not. But they were getting that hand on the wall for their teammates, their communities, their families, and their countries. They were racing for more than themselves.
18. After Grevers struggled a couple of years ago and Nathan missed the team in the 50, some media reports were concerned with how they would do in London – yet their personalities and the whole roommate thing, along with their performances, made them some of the most adored athletes to come out of London – that didn’t surprise you, did it?
Lindsay: Definitely not. With Grevers and Adrian, I would never count them out in my book. For sure, being a champion, it’s a characteristic that you deliver when the time comes. You can’t count a champion out, and they are both champions. As you have pointed out here before, they are truly outstanding people, and very, very likeable. We have a group of athletes that loves giving back to the sport, and we will see the effects of that long into the future.
19. You really are enjoying being part of this still, aren’t you?
Lindsay: I really am fortunate to do what I do, and to love what I do. I love supporting the athletes in a sport I truly love. My role now is to be the support person, not to be in the water. I am very happy doing what I am doing.
20. Could you have imagined when we first started talking back in the 1990s that you’d still be going to the Olympics 15-20 years later?
Lindsay: No! This is just fantastic. This is a great way for me to be involved. I love the people I work with – it’s such a great group of people. We have a great group of volunteers. We have coaches and athletes who I really care about, and I couldn’t ask for anything more. I get a lot of support as well, and I could not be more thankful.