Rebecca Soni Gives Swimming World Exclusive First Post-Retirement Interview

Photo Courtesy: Arena USA

LOS ANGELES, California, January 30. THE swimming world has been wondering whether all of the women’s breaststroke world records in 2013 would entice Rebecca Soni out of what turned into a semi-retirement following the 2012 London Olympics, but those hopes can be put aside as Soni has officially announced her retirement as part of a new website launch.

To hype the website launch, Soni took part in an exclusive interview with Swimming World this morning as part of her multi-level retirement announcement.

Soni, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and six-time Olympic medalist overall, closed out her career in London by winning the 200 breaststroke and becoming the first swimmer to break the 2:20 barrier. She then took last year off to recover from a back injury, before linking up with World Champion Ariana Kukors to create Atlas Ventures.

The two have been active on social media recently, hyping the debut of their new company website at http://www.theatlasventures.com

Now, with Kukors as a partner, Soni will be looking to pass on the knowledge she learned as a world-class athlete to others as part of a peak performance training company.

Swimming World was privileged enough to get the first post-retirement interview with Soni this morning as she also will be changing to an ambassador relationship with her sponsor Arena, similar to the deal that Aaron Peirsol has with the company.

When did you finally decide to retire?
”I was feeling it after the London Olympics. I was definitely feeling I’d achieved so much, and was ready to think about retirement. I was happy with the way my career had gone, and achieving that goal of breaking 2:20 is something I had been chasing for years. I felt like I had achieved that goal, and I was ready to move on.

I considered coming back several time, and it has been fun watching the girls step up and swim so amazingly. It’s been really fun to watch them, but I never felt that calling to get back in there. I had already done my piece, and now is a great time to take the next forward, and maybe approach things from the other side. That’s what motivated me to get the retirement out there.”

That next step you talk about is part of your announcement. Can you talk about the new Atlas Ventures partnership with Ariana?
“Ari and I have been speculation about this for awhile now. We finally gave it a name, and came up with a serious plan of attack. We are excited to launch it and have the world see what we are up to. It’s been fun and exciting. Our goal is definitely to give back to the swimming community. We’ve gotten so much from them writing and tweeting about us online, and it’s been amazing. We just want to give back.

Also, we spent a lot of time talking about what it is that makes athletes the best in the world. What separates them from everybody else? That’s how we established our relationship, in searching for a deeper level of training. We just want to give back that knowledge to the next generation of swimmers to start. We feel we have an awesome series of tools we have adapted through our years of training. It’s about “We wish we had known this when we were kids.” So, why can’t we give that to the kids now? We have great knowledge that anyone can tap into. That’s our first step in giving back.

We want to do our workshops. They aren’t a clinic, and it’s mostly focused on peak performance out of the water. Atlas is about growth and exploration of the human spirit. That’s what we are all about. We are going to grow and evolve over time.”

One of the ways you plan on giving back is via something you are calling Practice Crashing. Can you tell us about that?
”They are so much fun. They are really just about fun and the surprise. A kid is going to practice not having any idea that someone like us is going to be there, and the energy just skyrockets. It’s nothing serious, and is all just about the fun. We just want to stop in and visit and say hey to the kids to get them involved and motivated. We want to make them love swimming at the end of the day.

To continue our exploration theme this year, we are going to spend a lot of time on the road. We like to travel, and we have a lot of trips planned. So, since we are going to be on the road, we might as well stop in and say hi to the kids. It’s not hard to do, and makes such a difference. We’ll bring our medals, show them to the kids, keep it really fun. We also want to let social media do the planning for us. We aren’t going to know where we are going. We are going to let Twitter and Facebook dictate the plans. Give us a good reason, and we’ll be there. We have a few chunks of time to do these, and it is something where we are just going to see where we end up.”

You keep bringing up fun, which seems to be in line with the “keeping it fun” type of narrative your sponsor Arena and now fellow ambassador Aaron Peirsol are trying to do with the Arena Grand Prixview series.
“It’s definitely the same kind of light-hearted concept of the Prixview. I’m excited to stay on the Arena team and take an ambassador role. I can contribute outside the pool, and that’s going to be a blast for this next year.”

You keep bringing up 2:20 as part of your post-retirement conversation. Is that your proudest moment?
”I definitely had a lot of moments that I would count as proudest. 2:20 was definitely up there. That was my motivator. But Beijing gold in 200 breast, to the relay in London was another one. Even the NCAA meets and swimming with USC, and winning the 200 breast four years in a row. Also, being captain internationally is up there. The list is long, and I’m lucky for that.

I keep coming back to 2:20 because it was not only awesome that I broke it, but the fact that I had been thinking about it for almost 10 years. That’s what kept me going after Beijing. I was close, but I had to put four more years back in the water . That’s what made me get to practice every day. It was an incredible moment.

That was my dream and goal. I remember in semis, and I went 2:20.00, and I had that moment where I thought that’s going to be my legacy – that I almost got it. Then, to come back and step up on that block for finals in London and feeling this might be my last chance, was definitely a storybook ending kind of feeling.

I still remember the specific conversation about 2:20, but I don’t remember everything around it. It was during a swim meet, and I went over to my Scarlet age group coach Tom Speedling, and he was looking at me. I was wondering what I did wrong. I probably went a 2:45. He just looked at me and said “You are going to be the first woman under 2:20.” That’s not even in my perspective at the time, but because he was so serious, and really actually believe it, it planted that seed in my head. It makes me wonder, what would have happened if that conversation didn’t happen. I didn’t think much about it right away, but as I kept coming back to it, it became part of me and my goal. I kept thinking he believed in me and put that idea in my head. I don’t think I would be the person I am today if that one sentence hadn’t been said to me when I was 14 or 15.”

Scarlet head coach Tom Speedling gives his side of the story on his Morning Swim Show appearance in August 2012:

The other person that really has been integral to your success has been USC head coach Dave Salo. What are your thoughts about that relationship?
“I really cherish our relationship, but it got off to a funny start. When he came into USC as the new head coach, I was reluctant. I liked the training we were doing with Mark Schubert. It was comfortable from my years as an age grouper, and Dave was a shock to the system.

I am grateful to him and for what he has given to me in general as a person. Training with Dave has been challenging as far as mentally learning to open my mind to new and different things. We all know Dave is different when it comes to training. I was one of the most reluctant to change.

Once I did, and let go of the reluctance, it opened my world up completely. He’s an amazing coach. We all know that. He treats all his athletes differently as far as his constant commenting on your training. With me, he was always there, but in a very hands off kind of way. He was never telling me where to go and what to do.

The way Dave sets up practices as times is that we have our groups set up in what he calls long sprint, middle sprint and short sprint. Distance swimmers are in the long sprint typically, but you always have a choice. I was always torn because I had a distancy background in training and I love the endurance training. But, I kind of want to do middle groups sometimes. So, I would ask him what I should be doing and he always answered “What do you think?” I’d always get frustrated and say I’m not the coach, you are the coach.

But, Dave sets up a lot of those scenarios to force you to make the decision yourself. He knew I was not the type of swimmer to choose short sprint to try to make it easier, not that sprinting is easy. But, I knew if I needed to work harder that day, I would choose a harder group. We had a great level of trust in the pool, and he taught me to make those decisions on my own.

When we traveled internationally, I was more confident as a swimmer to make those decisions and be confident in those choices. That’s not something that is easy to learn. I think he was a huge contributor to me going 2:19.

Every time I raced with him on the pool deck, I waited for one of his ear-piercing whistles. I don’t think it would have felt the same without him. I love watching video and hearing his whistle in the race footage. It’s always awesome, even when I’m watching my fellow Trojans swim. I know he will always be there for me. What started out as a rocky relationship has turned into almost a second father figure.”

Arena made a point of wanting to voice how happy they are to continue a relationship with Soni, one of their top US brand ambassadors since Arena refocused its efforts on the United States market.

“The entire family at Arena is pleased to congratulate Rebecca on an incredible career. As an athlete, she made an indelible mark on swimming history, and as an ambassador and role model, she has been poised, professional and effective,” said Tim McCool, Vice President and General Manager of Arena North America. “We will never forget her 2012 world record in the then-new red POWERSKIN Carbon-Pro, as that image remains an iconic picture of her success. As she enters the next chapter, we are pleased and honored that Rebecca will continue to be an Arena ambassador, and we look forward to working together.”

Soni will be posting the following announcement in full on her new blog. The post is entitled “Retirement From Competitive Swimming”:

After London, I already had the feeling that I might be done. Achieving my dream of going below 2:20 in the 200 breast really was a storybook end to it. I feel like I conquered something I had been chasing for so long… for almost 10 years! And now it’s time to conquer something else.

Swimming has given me so much! It has given me the opportunity to travel, to meet people who have become some of my best friends, to come out to California and go to school at USC. It has taught me how to work hard and dream big. Through approaching swimming the way that I have, I’ve learned an enormous amount of tools and techniques for chasing peak performance that I can now apply to anything in life!

But before I move away from swimming too much, I want to take the time to give back. The swimming community has become my family and I want to do my best to inspire the next generation and to share some of the things I’ve learned. Because of wanting to pay it back to everyone who helped support us, cheer us on at the Olympics, and send us fun tweets and Facebook messages, Ari and I decided to team up and give back to our swimming people through our Practice Crashes and Workshops!!

We’re really excited to get started on this first of many ventures for The Atlas Ventures!!

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Author: Jason Marsteller

Jason Marsteller is the general manager of digital properties at Swimming World. He joined Swimming World in June 2006 as the managing editor after previous stints as a media relations professional at Indiana University, the University of Tennessee, Southern Utah University and the Utah Summer Games.

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