Even though she didn’t make the U.S. Olympic swimming team in any her three events – the 100-meter backstroke, the 100-meter freestyle and 50-meter freestyle – Glenview’s Olivia Smoliga had a pleasant ride home Sunday from the Olympic Trials in Omaha.
Only 17 and an incoming senior at Glenbrook South, the three-time state champion swimmer performed well against seasoned athletes, including Olympic gold medal winners. She’ll take those memories and the support of her community into her next tournament and a top college swimming program in 2013.
While traveling back to Glenview through Iowa, Smoliga recounted her competitive experience of a lifetime for Patch.
Patch: What did you learn from all your experiences in Omaha?
Smoliga: I learned a lot being in Omaha. It was my first Olympic Trials. I know a lot of the girls I competed against had at least one Olympic Trials under their belts. It was really interesting to see how they reacted to certain situations, going into semis and going into finals and how I reacted.
I’m sure I was a little bit more nervous than they were. I’m sure they knew they had some sort of an edge over me. I learned I have to relax, I guess, a little bit more. I have to be a little more confident in my races to do better, especially this high of a caliber of a meet.
Patch: What did you learn was the difference between you and, say, a Missy Franklin, who had that great finishing kick to win the 100-meter backstroke finals?
Smoliga: I really learned a lot of stuff. Definitely strengthening my upper body and my lower body, for that matter. But definitely my finishing speed. I know on that last 100 back in the finals, my legs completely died those last 15 meters. It was hard. You knew you gave your best and came up a little bit short.
Patch: What was it like meeting Franklin, your idol Natalie Coughlin and other top swimmers?
Smoliga: I already met Missy. We already know each other and we talk a lot. Seeing Missy was no different. But seeing Natalie in the ready room while we were getting ready for the race, I complemented her on her nails. They literally seemed like normal people and they were really friendly. I’m sure I’ve said this countless times – the swimming community is one of the nicest.
It just goes to show that such a superstar like Natalie, who is a celebrity in the swimming world, is just as down to earth as someone who is starting to swim. After the prelim of the 100 backstroke, she patted me on the shoulder and said ‘Good job.’ That was so cool.
Patch: Did you have to learn to balance your preparation for the swimming heats with hosting friends from the Chicago area?
Smoliga: The only time when I saw my friends who came to support me were after my races, at night. I had a chance to talk to them easily. I wasn’t like I had to balance much. It was really cool. There were two little girls (from Elmhurst) who came up to me and said they were such great fans of me and they were watching me swim the 100 back.
Patch: How much do you credit the support of everyone in Glenview for what you were able to do?
Smoliga: I completely give all the credit to them, starting with my parents and my brother. The entire (Glenview Titan Aquatic Club) team who made the shirt for me. That (June 16, Glenview-wide) sendoff for me – I couldn’t ask for a better community to support me, have my back and just ask for me to do my very best. It’s a great feeling to have them all behind me and supporting me.
Patch: What are your immediate plans for competitive swimming?
Smoliga: My coach is giving me through the Fourth of July off. I remember the last time I had a break. Then I’ll go back to the pool. I have Junior Pan-American Pacific Junior Championships (Aug. 19-28) in Hawaii. All expenses paid. The hotel is right on the beach and it’s so sweet. I’ll just be swimming the 100 back there, so that should be fun.
Then it’s the high-school season. We’ll have to discuss the suits and the schedule, get all that prepared for possibly being the captain. Senior year is going to be pretty crazy.
Patch: When do you expect to make your college choice?
Smoliga: I hope to make my choice before high school state (championships) in November. I’m going to take some college trips, but I have to talk to my high-school coach to make sure the schedules aren’t interfering with each other. I want to be at as many meets as possible without college visits interfering with the high-school schedule.
They’re only weekend trips – the full week trip is for just one college. I don’t think it’s possible to visit all three (top California college swimming powers) in one weekend. I don’t have a favorite. Today was July 1. I was able to talk to some colleges. They were able to come up to me, legally, because they weren’t allowed to talk to me (before Sunday). After prelims in Omaha, I talked to the University of Arizona, USC and Texas. They aren’t necessarily in the running, but those were the colleges I talked to.
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