Pushed -- and loving it
Even after Olympic gold, UGa's Schmitt still loves competition
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- The world’s best women’s freestyler had no easy going Friday night. And she loved every minute of it.
Six-time Olympic medalist Allison Schmitt, a senior at Georgia, was nearly matched stroke for stroke by Cal freshman Elizabeth Pelton in Schmitt‘s premier event, the 200-yard freestyle, at the IU Natatorium. But just nearly matched. Remember, Schmitt was a three-time gold medalist at the London 2012 Olympic Games and holds the American record at 200 meters.
Schmitt won the 200 with a time of 1:41.85 at the Division I Women‘s Swimming and Diving Championships, defeating Pelton by less than three-tenths of a second as a large Georgia spectator section screamed in delight. It was one of those defining moments for an Olympian who took last year off from school in order to train for the Olympic Games.
“I knew it was going to be a great race all around,” Schmitt said. “I saw Elizabeth the whole time. I knew she was going to be tough coming home. I was happy to get my hand on the wall.”
Schmitt returned to Georgia this year to help the Lady Bulldogs in their run at a national team championship. The Bulldogs have not won the NCAA title since 2005. Her win in the 200 was her third NCAA title in that event.
This is the Allison Schmitt everyone knows. A force in the pool with her long freestyle strokes and powerful kicks, Schmitt anchored Georgia’s victory in the 800 freestyle relay. The rest of the field was left to fight for second place. Standing on the top podium during the awards ceremony, she smiles and waves at the crowd as if she was doing this for the first time.
Afterward on the pool deck, she yelled down at 2012 Olympic teammate Elizabeth Beisel, a junior at Florida who won the 400 IM Friday night.
“Hey, Beisel, you‘re loud!” she yelled.
Beisel glanced back and laughed.
Shannon Vreeland, an Olympic teammate and Georgia teammate of Schmitt, is well aware of Schmitt’s fun side.
“She’s a great person. I don’t think you could find anyone who doesn’t like her,“ said Vreeland, who also swims on the 800 relay squad. “I think that speaks a lot for both her character and how she is as a teammate. Regardless of what team she‘s on, whether that‘s Team USA or Georgia or north Baltimore, anywhere, her teammates all look up to her and really appreciate her presence.”
The Bulldogs certainly appreciate her presence. After winning three gold medals, one silver and one bronze at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Schmitt anchored Georgia’s record-breaking 800 relay team at the Southeastern Conference championships. She finished sixth in the 500 freestyle Thursday and still has the 100 freestyle Saturday.
Even after swimming in two Olympic Games, the excitement of chasing for a team championship in college still pulls at Schmitt. Her loyalty to Georgia is complete and it is strong.
“The whole atmosphere, to me, is great,” she said. “Being a Georgia Bulldog here has been an absolute blessing. I couldn’t have asked for more to come back to this group of girls.”
Georgia coach Jack Bauerle has seen Schmitt become more of a team leader since returning from her one-year sabbatical for the Olympic Games. She is a team captain for the Bulldogs.
“I think she has sort of grown into a little bit more of a leader,” he said. “She was always a great swimmer.”
Her final act Saturday will be the 100 freestyle in which Arizona’s Margo Geer is the top seed and Georgia teammate Megan Romano, who had been the defending champion in the 200, is No. 2. Then, there is the meet-ending 400 freestyle relay which may decide the team championship because the battle for the top spot is so close among Georgia, two-time defending NCAA champion California and Tennessee.
“We haven’t let up all year and to be able to come here and show up for a big meet, it’s been really great,” Vreeland said. “And I think everybody’s played a really big part. Every single person on the team contributes.”