When Georgia swimmer Allison Schmitt made the decision to redshirt what would have been her senior season and focus solely on training for her second Olympics, her entire world narrowed.
The classrooms and campus overflowing with fellow students and the dozens of teammates she interacted with each day gave way to a spot into a family of nine swimmers living in Baltimore, training together six days a week in hopes of earning a spot in this summer’s London Olympics.
Leaving Athens was difficult, and so was adapting to a life revolving around the pool, the gym and international competitions.
“It was a hard decision to make because I love Georgia and I knew we were going to be close to a national championship this year,” said Schmitt, who won NCAA titles in the 200- and 500-freestyle races in 2010-11 as a junior. “I was leaving basically my whole team to go train somewhere I’d never been before and where I didn’t know a lot of people. But I decided I wanted to concentrate on training for this summer.”
But the change also allowed Schmitt to improve her chances of winning another medal this summer.
In 2008, Schmitt won bronze as a member of the U.S. women’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay team and finished ninth in the 200 freestyle, just one spot shy of a berth in the finals.
When the Games begin later this month, Schmitt will be competing in the 200 and 400 freestyles and the 4×100 and 4×200 relays. And her times in those events have been among the world’s best. At last month’s U.S. trials, she broke her own American record in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:54.40, winning the event along with the 400 freestyle and finishing third in the 100 freestyle.
“This last year, I really focused on every little thing – every little detail – rather than just going to the pool, practicing, doing weights, going to my room and that’s it,” Schmitt said. “I was working on nutrition, getting enough sleep, concentrating. It really helped me get to the next level, and when I got to trials, I didn’t feel like I was at trials. I felt like I was just at another swim meet.”
Georgia coach Jack Baurle, who coached Schmitt on the 2008 women’s Olympic team, said he was confident Schmitt would outperform herself in London.
“You take an athlete like Schmitty and put her in that kind of competition, she’ll be all right,” Bauerle said. “She’s got a real good chance if she keeps swimming like she did at trials.”
While Schmitt’s times are down, her guard is up. She said she still expects to feel awestruck by the Olympics, but the Games should not be as much of a distraction this time around.
“I’m so much more calm,” Schmitt said. “In 2008, I was very naïve and very energetic about everything. I wanted to see everything. This time, I know what to expect, so I’m going to be able to concentrate a lot more on myself and hopefully have better results.”
It was that first Olympic experience that helped her recalibrate her goals and led to the decision to redshirt the college season, an option she didn’t jump to without much thought.
“That all kind of pushed me and made me realize how hard I should work this year and how I should just put everything else on hold,” Schmitt said. “In the past four years, it’s always been in the back of my mind, even if it still feels far away.”
Regardless of the how she performs in London, Schmitt said she will not regret the decision to spend the year training in Baltimore. But she is also looking forward to returning to Georgia.
“I’m excited to get back to college, even though I know it’s going to feel different,” Schmitt said. “It’s going to be different, too, not knowing the whole team when I get back there. I’ve enjoyed this adventure, but I’m excited to go back.”