Olympic Trials Update: Olivia Smoliga Places 4th in Women's Backstroke Finals
Glenview's favorite swimmer finished in fourth, two places under qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team. Catch Olivia swim her next event on Friday when she hits the pool for the 100-meter freestyle preliminaries.
Olivia Smoliga swam well Wednesday night—but not as well or as fast as the favored Missy Franklin.
Glenview’s Smoliga finished fourth in the finals of the women’s 100-meter backstroke at the Olympic Trials in Omaha. As impressive as was her performance, she just didn’t have the finishing kick of fellow 17-year-old Franklin.
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The victor picked up speed as if she had afterburners in the final lap to set an American women’s record of 58.85. Rachel Bootsma was runner-up and an Olympic qualifier at 59.49.
Smoliga had a perfect lead-in to her event: water-borne Olympic idol Michael Phelps won the previous heat. The Glenview Titan, who finished third in the semis, clocked in at 100.46—just .40 behind three-time Olympic gold medalist Natalie Coughlin, 29, idol of both Smoliga and Franklin.
Sportsmanship prevailed in the aftermath as Smoliga hugged Franklin, her Glenview Titan Aquatic Club swimming cap clearly on display at the live national prime-time NBC telecast.
“She was never out of it,” Smoliga’s GTAC coach Steve Iida told Patch by phone after the finals. “She was in fifth or sixth place going into the wall. It has to be a perfect storm. The goal was to be one of the two top girls, and you have to break the American record."
Fourth-place was at least a moral victory for Glenview’s Iida.
"Quite frankly, making finals for me was icing on the cake,” he said. “I was in the hallway at first collecting my thoughts. I shouldn’t be disappointed.”
Watching Franklin jet away from the pack two lanes over will be a learning focal point for Smoliga, said Iida.
“I’ve always believed this,” he said. “She is only going to get faster when she’s going to get bigger, get muscle strength. There are times when her legs die. She said she had no legs coming home. We can work on some leg strength. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
While Iida sometimes administers tough love, Smoliga’s parents, Elizabeth and Tom Smoliga, were there all the way through as her center of support.
“We weren’t too cocky to say we knew in heart of hearts (she’d make the finals),” Elizabeth Smoliga said. “She’d go to semis, we’d say we love you. I always say you can do it. That’s what kind of comes out naturally.
“We are sitting behind the blocks in Section 228. That’s where we sat 4 years ago for a July 4 trip. You can see all athletes passing by.”
Smoliga is scheduled to go through a light workout Thursday with Iida in preparation for two more events – prelims of the 100-meter freestyle Friday and 50-meter freestyle Sunday.
Stay tuned to Patch for updates from Olympic Trials in Omaha.