Glenview's Smoliga Finishes 3rd in Semis, Reaches Backstroke Finals at Olympic Trials
Glenview's favorite swimmer has outperformed Olympic medalists and is one step away from booking a trip to London. After a grueling day of competition, Patch talked with the 17-year-old athlete before she hit her pillow Tuesday night.
Coach Steve Iida doesn't know why, but says Olivia Smoliga is “kind of an evening swimmer."
"She usually swims faster in the evening than in the morning," he shared with Patch Tuesday night.
Whatever the reason, Iida has scouted his prize pupil, Glenview’s prospective Olympic swimmer, just right in the U.S Olympic swimming trials in Omaha.
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Smoliga came out at night on Tuesday to swim a second faster than in the prelims earlier in the day in the women’s 100-meter backstroke. She finished third, one slot better than in the morning heat.
Ending up No. 3 has qualified her for a real shot at an Olympic berth in the finals at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
"It's insane, it's crazy," Smoliga said late Tuesday night via phone, trying to digest her budding feat. "I have no idea how it's going to go."
Smoliga, who will compete in two other qualifying events Friday and Sunday, has outswam Olympic gold medalists like Natalie Coughlin. The Glenbrook South 17-year-old senior’s semi-final time was 59.8 seconds. If she can pick up the pace a little and finish no worse than second Wednesday night, she will book a trip to London in one month.
Iida, also a Glenview resident, helped fine-tune Smoliga’s technique between the morning and evening heats.
“There were two or three things we focused on -- her flip turn, her underwater dolphin kick and keeping her hips up more,” he said, a veteran of coaching Smoliga from the Glenview Titan Acquatic Club.
Frame-by-frame video replay has enabled Smoliga to self-critique her form.
"We watch tape like football players, over and over," she said. "I look at my race on my computer. It's such a great advantage you have."
Smoliga also calmed down for the semis.
“This morning she was the most nervous I’ve ever seen her,” Iida said. "She admitted on the blocks her heart was pounding almost out of her chest.”
Said Smoliga: "I almost psyched myself out."
By the semis, said Iida, “she swam like a veteran," prompting plaudits from other coaches and former medalists alike.
Coughlin’s praise at the prelims, though, meant the most to Smoliga.
"Natalie has been my idol forever," Smoliga said. "It just pushes me to be faster."
Smoliga is scheduled to have breakfast Wednesday with some 15 friends and supporters who just arrived in Omaha. Then Iida will work her out in the pool at noon, before a pre-finals nap.
She’ll also compete in the prelims of the 100-meter freestyle Friday and 50-meter freestyle Sunday.
The NBC Sports Network, formerly Versus, is televising the backstroke finals on tape delay at 11 p.m. Wednesday.
Cheer on Olivia and share your good-luck wises in the comments below or on Facebook. And, stay tuned to Patch for continuing coverage this week plus a Q&A with Smoliga following trials.