By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, December 27, 2016
She was always on the medal stand when it counted, setting records, and now Lindsay (Benko) Mintenko has put together quite a career as National Team Managing Director. And what a time for one of the U.S.’s best swimmers to see the young women on the team now, as she explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. What did you think of Rio?Lindsay: Oh gosh, it was a blast! I think Rio first of all put on an excellent show. They were super helpful and put on a great show. To have our athletes show up like they did -- it was fun to be a part of.
2. How about Michael Phelps because you can certainly relate, can’t you?
Lindsay: I think what Michael did -- I wouldn’t put myself (laughs) in the same category -- transcended the sport. I was very fortunate to be part of that from the very beginning as his teammate, to the end. In 2000 and then in 2004, when I was a team captain, I got to see it all up close. Then in the last three Games I was able to watch him from the other side. It’s been an honor to be on this journey for him. He has done so much and I hope he continues!
3. He really appreciates it now more than ever, doesn’t he?
Lindsay: Oh, we all do. We all appreciate it as we get older. It’s an everyday occurrence as you get older. As an athlete, to ask yourself to do what you have to do, it’s an intense endeavor; a lot of people don’t realize what you have to put yourself through, especially as you get older.
4. Lia Neal became the first African American to medal in two Games, how impressive is she?
Lindsay: What I appreciates the most about Lia is her genuine kindness. If you take away all her accomplishments she still has an amazing heart. She is always smiling, kind and gracious. I think that her accomplishments are just a reflection of the kind of person she is.
5. What kind of pride did you feel seeing Simone Manuel’s incredible swims and her memorable reaction to making history?
Lindsay: I was fortunate enough to be able to listen to her press conference after her 100 free gold. The way she handled that was a step in such a great direction for the sport. She had an incredible task on her hands but her belief in herself, her coaches and her training -- and the support around her -- tells you about her personality. She answered the question about being the first African American gold medalist with such a great answer -- that hopefully there will be so many African Americans winning gold medals in the future that it will be so common they will just be known as “gold medal winners.” Her reaction and comments explain the magnitude of that accomplishment more than any other words could. Her willingness to accept that responsibility was so impressive, but even more so was wanting to change the culture where this becomes a regular thing and the accomplishments of minority swimmers are so prevalent there’s a lot of pride in seeing different races represented, but it becomes something we are wonderfully familiar to see as it grows.
6. What about Katie Ledecky’s personality -- is there a more likeable person that you can remember in any sport?
Lindsay: She’s super likeable. She comes obviously from a great family who has taught her great values. And to embrace who she is. She does the things she sets out to do and doesn’t worry what other people think or say. As a female athlete growing up, that is so cool for them to have a role model like her. She’s so poised and makes good decisions. She just really wants to swim fast, and she does.
7. Isn’t that great to say that about all the female swimmers, including Katie?
Lindsay: I think we’re fortunate to say that about a lot of our athletes, and certainly Katie. Not just in the water, but who they are out of the water. The great accomplishments in the pool are great for the sport. But in the end, you know what they do out of the water is going to be even more impressive.
8. How about the young men in Rio -- I am thinking of the swim Townley Haas turned in at such a young age?
Lindsay: Townley has a huge amount of talent. His performance at his first Games and the way he stepped up in his first big international competition under that kind of pressure shows you how bright the future is.
9. What about Maya DiRado -- I can’t think of a better person, better prepared, who rose to the challenges with the ability and tenacity and grace she did, can you?
Lindsay: Obviously, anyone gets their hands on the wall like she did in that 200 back makes you smile, but you saw all along how her attitude and smile was a testament to how much Maya enjoyed the process. She knew this would be her last run, so she wanted to make the most of it. She showed a lot of poise through the whole time -- the whole Games, the training camps, and showed a lot of leadership.
10. Speaking of tenacity, how about the unique drive of Lilly King?
Lindsay: Absolutely so impressive. I think that we female athletes need to see that, they need to have confidence in their abilities, confidence to be strong, powerful, going places by doing what she had to do, working hard, and being who she is. We say that with Katie, Missy, Simone, Maya, so many on that team. That’s a powerful and important message to send young women.
11. How fun is it to watch Caeleb Dressel continue to evolve and he reminds me a little of Anthony Ervin in how he has this great emotion and perspective, doesn’t he?
Lindsay: This is my first time working with Caeleb and it was fun to watch him and what he went through to be part of the Olympic Team. Clearly, he has a tremendous amount of talent. Obviously though, he also has the mental aspect. From high school into college, he found a new appreciation for the sport, and he could definitely be one of the faces of sprinting for the next Games or even two. Some thought our sprinting would be down and out, but we have a really impressive group of young athletes.
12. On the men’s side, as far as reactions, wasn’t Ryan Held’s priceless?
Lindsay: I think Ryan’s reaction epitomizes what the Olympic Team is. Ryan did that for everyone. You can get so jaded and forget that it’s just an amazing accomplishment to make the team. People start to think if they don’t make two teams they haven’t done anything, or need to make a third to be important. Ryan brought us back to the reality that it’s not about how many teams, it’s about living in the moment. To be on the medal podium representing his country like that -- it’s what it is all about. Ryan did that for me, and everyone watching.
13. You must’ve been proud of Anthony Ervin since you were teammates too?
Lindsay: I was so proud of Anthony. He’s been through a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes you go back to what you know. That’s what he did. It obviously paid off for him. I hope he finds joy and peace in this. It sure was fun to watch.
14. More Cal guys -- too many to mention! -- But how about Ryan Murphy’s swims and what Nathan Adrian did YET AGAIN when counted on?
Lindsay: Ryan’s a special talent but he’s all that and a lot more as a person. Ryan is one of those who is a thinker as much as he is a competitor. To do the world record on that relay when the team needed him most? That seems a very fitting place and time to make history. And how about Nathan Adrian? He always does it right. He is so smart as an athlete, and out of the pool, that no matter whether he continues swimming he will make a huge impression on the world out of the water as he continues to do in the water. I hope he continues. And you know with Ryan, we’re all excited to watch him. These are important people outside of the sport, in life. It’s not just about winning medals or what the color of the medal is, it’s about setting yourself up to be successful, and they show that every day.
15. Were you proud to see Catherine Vogt become a head coach?
Lindsay: Every time that happens it means so much to me. Watching Teri (McKeever) lead the women in 2012 was incredible. And now with Catherine in such an important role -- we need to have more female coaches in the higher levels of swimming. So I think we are seeing it move in that direction and that makes us excited about what the future offers.
16. How come all these women are at great schools and so great academically?
Lindsay: I think as swimmers we have the drive and work ethic to get the work done. You have to have a ton of discipline and be able to see the big picture but understand how the small pictures fit together. To be able to be both -- an excellent swimmer and a scholar -- takes a huge commitment that a lot of these young women, as well as the men’s team, make a commitment to in their daily lives.
17. Seeing Elizabeth Beisel and Allison Schmitt made me so happy -- different roles, but fitting and wonderful, wasn’t it?
Lindsay: They approached the Games with such a great attitude. They don’t know if they’ll have another one. Their approach was so genuine, they wanted to swim fast and well, and make sure they made the most of it and had a positive effect on the team. What great leaders these two were for this team along with the other captains. The fact that they understood what this is all about -- how making an Olympic Team is so special -- really had a great effect on the younger swimmers and all their teammates.
18. Lots of commenters worried about this team after last summer -- but you did not , why?
Lindsay: It didn’t surprise me to see this team do what it did. I saw a majority of them last summer at WUGs and Pan Ams. A lot of these people like Josh Prenot, Jacob Pebley, Katie Meili, Kelsi Worrell, and so many others -- they just kept coming on and on.
19. I miss some of the coaches who weren’t there but how about the incredible up-and-coming coaching talent?
Lindsay: It is now a bumper crop (laughs) of great coaching. When you see your athletes have this kind of success, it means they have successful coaches in club and college. Those coaches at all levels are a big part of what we have to do on a daily basis. So for our Olympic team to do what they did was a tribute to the coaching staff there but also all the great club, college and high school coaches -- we’re super fortunate to have that level of coaching here.
20. Running the National Team, Frank Busch continues to make the right moves -- why is that?
Lindsay: I had the opportunity to work with Mark Schubert and Frank Busch. Mark took this program to another level. And Frank came in and saw what he had. They had very different approaches, but both are successful. In terms of since he took over, Frank knew that tough decisions were part of the job, not just at the big international meets, but on a day-to-day basis. Being able to get through those decisions so thoughtfully is a big part of Frank’s incredible success. Frank’s ability to excite a team is fun to watch. I like to watch videos from the summers before, how he can unite everyone, yet have them be relaxed inside, then lead them out onto the pool deck is so impressive. We had a great Games in Rio, but now the challenge is to be better in Tokyo. So the work has already started, and I’m excited to be a part of it.