Schmitt’s Star is Rising Higher and Higher

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By John Lohn

OMAHA, Nebraska, June 26. SHE goes about her business in unassuming fashion, allowing her performances to speak. But with every entry into the water and top-notch time — such as a midseason clocking of 1:55.04 in Grand Prix action — Allison Schmitt is not going to be able to fly under the radar much longer.

These days, most conversation revolving around USA swimming centers on the exploits of Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps — and for good reason. On the female side, the majority of the chatter is focused on Missy Franklin and Natalie Coughlin, with the Dara Torres storyline also a major player. Schmitt, at least until now, has been somewhat overshadowed.

There might not be a more underappreciated American swimmer than Schmitt, whose tuneup season for the Olympic campaign has been nothing short of sensational. Training under Bob Bowman with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Schmitt has always played second fiddle in her own circle to Phelps. Then again, who doesn't?

Outside of her club, Schmitt hasn't attracted the attention of Coughlin, a woman with 11 Olympic medals, or Franklin, who saw the hype around her escalate exponentially after last summer's World Championships in Shanghai. What about Schmitt? She just does her thing, which is a perfectly fine way to manage her career.

She possesses a loose personality, seemingly unfazed by pressure. Before her first trace of the Olympic Trials this morning, the 400 freestyle, Schmitt could be seen laughing behind the blocks. Really, her demeanor is a great way to handle the high intensity workload of coach Bob Bowman.

“I guess it's just my personality,” Schmitt said of her easy-going ways. “I don't like to take things too seriously. I just like to have fun, especially in a sport like swimming. You have to keep the mood light, joke around, play games and have fun.”

A four-time NCAA champion, including three consecutive titles in the 500 free from 2009-2011, Schmitt took a redshirt year from the University of Georgia in order to prepare for the Olympic Trials and London Games. It's a decision which has clearly been beneficial, given the 22-year-old's exceptional times throughout the year.

Schmitt has routinely produced quick times over the past few months, but it was her performance at the Longhorn Aquatics Elite Invitational which really opened eyes. In addition to posting the second-fastest time in the world in the 200 freestyle, thanks to an effort of 1:55.04, Schmitt established herself as a potential cog for the United States' 400 free relay. That possibility was the direct result of a 53.94 showing in the 100 free.

Barring a surprise development, Schmitt should represent the United States in London in the 200 and 400 freestyles. By that time, her profile will be much bigger and her name will be mentioned as a gold-medal contender alongside the likes of France's Camille Muffat, Italian Federica Pellegrini, Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom and Great Britain's Rebecca Adlington.

Muffat's last few months have been dazzling, highlighted by a 1:54.66 mark in the 200 free and a 4:01.13 outing in the 400 free. Thanks to those times, which are textile bests, the Frenchwoman has been anointed the favorite for the middle-distance double. Soon, Schmitt will be labeled with co-favorite status, such is what she should accomplish at these Trials. That's a big change from last summer's World Champs, where Schmitt settled for a sixth-place finish in the 200 free. She did, however, help the United States to the gold medal in the 800 free relay.

“I've been working on my strokes, my strategies and I wasn't happy in Shanghai getting sixth place,” she said. “Since then, I've been working on different strategies, getting stronger, more fit and preparing for this summer.”

Schmitt's Olympic Trials started in fine form, as she cruised to a preliminary time of 4:05.60 in the 400 free, just enough to hold off rising teenage star Katie Ledecky. Tonight, look for Schmitt to go quite a bit faster, quick enough to give Muffat something to contemplate.

“I felt really good,” Schmitt said of her initial swim. “I was pushed the whole way (by Ledecky). I'm going to go out, swim my best and see what happens.”

Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn

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