By Bob Schaller//Correspondent
Ellen Williamson has her eye on Worlds right now. After finaling in her first international trip for USA Swimming at the World University Games in Russia – the University of Virginia swimmer is proud of how the U.S. women are performing and carrying themselves in Barcelona, as she explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. To earn a trip to WUGs – what does that mean?
Ellen: I had only heard great things from teammates who had gone to World University Games. I was just really excited to have my first international experience!
2. What did you take from it?
Ellen: One of my big goals going in was just to learn from everyone there about what it takes to be successful at international meets. I was not expecting to do as well as I did, so that made it even better. I just wanted to see how the top level swimmers prepare for the international meets and big races. It was an unbelievably amazing experience.
3. Russia had its National Team with it being a “home” meet – did that surprise you?
Ellen: Yes, definitely. I swam the first day of competition, and we were kind of a little bit shocked that Russia had their “A” team there. But it was also motivating, because we knew those were the best swimmers in their country, and to be in the same heat with someone like that is a great opportunity. I think Russia did a really nice job with everything.
4. Having so many top swimmers from those countries there – did that impact the performances?
Ellen: I think it made everyone better. At first everyone was shocked, but then we realized how great it was to have them there. Definitely yes, it’s really cool to have such great competition.
5. Your improvement has been consistent hasn’t it?
Ellen: I haven’t had any crazy drops like four seconds or anything. I went into college in the 200 back at 2:14, and then was 2:12 last summer, and 2:11 this summer, so I have gotten a little better each year. Hopefuly I will continue to do that.
6. Being at a school like UVA, has that helped?
Ellen: The college training has helped a lot, just having other people at such a high level to race has made me improve. Plus we have a lot of competitive backstrokers and IMers, so it makes us all better.
7. The backstroke is tough here, isn’t it?
Ellen: I think, especially in the backstroke, it is just super competitive in the United States – so to be able to make a team for the United States is just the best thing ever. Going into the international meets, I wasn’t expecting everyone to know who we were, and yet everyone did know us. I think especially as women we went and represented well, getting a lot of gold, silver and bronze. It was just so great to represent the United States. People came up and swarmed us the last few days for caps, sweatshirts and our pins – it was just overwhelming. We don’t always notice how good it is when we’re at home competing for our club and college teams, but when you go to an international meet, you really see how good our swimming program is in the U.S.
8. Who are you following at Worlds?
Ellen: Missy Franklin is just incredible. I was just looking at Tweets (Monday afternoon) posted from Worlds and someone said she slipped in the backstroke and still made it back as the top seed or something crazy in the final! That’s how dominant she is, and it is awesome to have her on the U.S. team. It’s such an honor to have the number one swimmer in the world be from the U.S.A. It gives us an amazing standard to work toward. She “slipped” and still went under a minute – 59 low, and that is amazing.
9. Anyone else impress you?
Ellen: Definitely, Katie Ledecky. Katie is from Virginia so there are a lot of UVA swimmers who have trained with her. It’s so cool to listen to them talk about where she’s come from, and how she’s not about to stop – she’s the real deal. She and Missy will be there for a long time being dominant for United States. Kate’s 400 (freestyle) was just incredible.
10. How much did it mean to you to make finals at WUGs?
Ellen: I wasn’t really expecting to final. It was just an unbelievable feeling to be a number two seed for semifinals. Just walking out with the whole crowd there, and everyone up in the stands yelling, “U-S-A, U-S-A!” – you have no option but to take a risk and swim fast. And that was the right environment to have fast swimming.
11. What else are you watching at Worlds today and later this week?
Ellen: I am looking forward to watching the test of the 100 back, to see the times and what they are doing. I am looking forward to the 800 free relays because Chelsea Chenault was actually my roommate at World University Games, so I am looking forward to seeing how she does on the relay.
12. What about having four or even six deep in some events?
Ellen: It’s crazy. It’ll be really exciting moving forward. It makes us all better. The depth is definitely something that pushes you. I am going to the U.S. Open and swimming the 100 back there. It will still be really deep, even though we have two great ones swimming for USA Swimming at Worlds.
13. How did you end up at Virginia coming from the Midwest?
Ellen: I took trips to Virginia, Georgia and Arizona. Right off the bat I fell in love with the closeness of the women’s team for UVA. I just really felt a connection with all of them. I was also impressed with how well they have done in recent years. I feel like Virginia is a program that is building and will be a force to be reckoned in with in the near future. I thought it would be cool to be part of building a program that is a threat at NCAAs. Georgia and Arizona are outstanding, it just seemed like maybe I was a better fit with UVA.
14. What are you studying?
Ellen: My major is systems engineering. I really like the D.C. area, so hopefully I will get a master’s degree somewhere, either at UVA or somewhere in D.C. My minor is in business, so I want to get a master’s and then maybe some work for a consulting (firm).
15. You picked a good school for your major, didn’t you?
Ellen: I take academics very seriously and I am so impressed with the program at UVA. We just received another high ranking from another rankings system that rates top schools. UVA does a great job of making you a top level athlete and pushing you to the top level academically.
16. You must know the Crippen name and what that incredible family means to UVA?
Ellen: Definitely, yes. I was really lucky to be able to meet Claire Crippen on my recruiting trip. I never actually swam with her, but just being at UVA you feel very close to what they stand for here.
17. What can you improve on as a swimmer based on what you learned at World University Games?
Ellen: I think it’s probably a little bit of everything. Strength is definitely something I am maybe a little bit behind on – and just fine tuning things like under waters and being a little bit better at my starts. My splits – all three swims were completely different – so with just a little more experience swimming races, I can do things more the way I want to and need to. And of course I just need some more hard work, that’s always important.
18. Have you seen some impressive stuff at Worlds besides Missy and Katie?
Ellen: I think we definitely are impressive as a team. I think what we saw from the women in the 400 free relay, with Megan Romano coming in behind on the last leg and not settling for silver. Megan went out in the first 50 and cut the lead down to nothing. And yet hardly any of them swimming for us are 100 free specialists; Missy is better at other events, and Shannon Vreeland’s main event has been the 200 free, so to see them go out and just take it from everybody else was inspiring.
19. Did going on a trip with Kendyl Stewart and the other backstrokers do anything for your development as far as being a top level backstroker?
Ellen: Yes, it really did. Going to WUGs really showed me that we are all in this together. All of us backstrokers are trying to make the team, but once you get on a team, you are there for each other. Kendyl and I weren’t racing each other so much anymore as we were racing together and pulling for each other. Being on a team like this shows you there is a bigger picture – Team USA is bigger than any one person, or any one race.
20. How do you feel moving forward after WUGs and seeing your friends on the women’s U.S. team doing so well at World Championships?
Ellen: I am really excited for the future to see what happens. I can’t wait to spend the next few years swimming for Virginia, and I am so excited to see what we can do as a country in 2016.