Allison Schmitt Surges to Fourth Olympic Team: ‘This One is Definitely the Most Emotional’

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Allison Schmitt continues to defy age, defy odds and prove she belongs among the world’s elite — with her biggest performances on the biggest stage.

Schmitt qualified for her fourth Olympics — one short of the record for American women’s swimming — with a stunning burst of speed in the 200 freestyle during the United States Olympic Trials on Wednesday night. While she seemed to be a favorite for one of the four relay spots, Schmitt earned an individual swim in the event in which she owns the American record, with a swim of 1:56.79 to finish just behind Katie Ledecky (1:55.11). Paige Madden was just behind in 1:56.80.

“I knew it was going to be close, but I couldn’t tell how close until I got out of the water and saw one one-hundredth on the board. I knew that last 50, I was going to be kicking hard and relying on that training that we’ve done and put everything I’ve got into it to know that when I finished, there was nothing more I could do,” Schmitt said. “It’s special every time. This one is definitely the most emotional and I think it’s special to be here at 31 and have everyone in the stands that’s here supporting me and back home that aren’t able to be here and have been along on this journey the past four years.”

So what does a fourth Olympics mean?

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Allison Schmitt. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“I don’t really know what it means yet. I think it’s really fresh and it’s more than special to me now. I’m so excited to go and embrace those closest to me in celebration.”

That included Michael Phelps, who rushed down from the stands to meet Schmitt in the corner of the deck. The two shared a long embrace with both of them wiping away tears as they finally separated.

“I don’t even know how to put that into words. He’s been a brother inside the pool and outside the pool. He’s helped me so much and he’s helped me along the journey the whole way since our time in Michigan and even now when he’s not swimming, he’s a huge part of it,” Schmitt said. “So I just know it’s all of us combined and it’s not just me finishing. There’s definitely tears and excitement.”

Schmitt qualified for her first Olympic Games in 2008. In 2012, she won the gold medal in London in the 200 free and was on top of the world before things started to take a turn. She has had a long road to get to these past two Olympic Games, including some dark days that shook her love of the sport and transformed her into one of the most outspoken leaders in raising mental health awareness.

“Successes in the pool are going to fade, but at the end of the day, it is what you can do with that. That platform for me is used for mental health. And I am passionate about that just like the sport of swimming,” Schmitt said. “We start to believe what people say on social media and it is a downfall of our society. Age is just a number right now. There are a lot of naysayers who think I am old. To be able to come back again is an honor.”

She won gold in the 4×200 and silver in the 4×100 in Rio in 2016 in her thrilling comeback to the world stage.
Schmitt has won eight Olympic medals through three Games — four gold, two silver and two bronze. She will have a couple of chances to add to that with the individual 200 free and the 800 free relay alongside Madden, Katie McLaughlin and Ledecky.

“Katie’s amazing. She’s an amazing athlete, an amazing swimmer and I commend her for the journey she’s been on, what she has accomplished so far and what she’s going out to accomplish. As her teammate and as her friend, I’ll be there right along the way and cheering her on,” Schmitt said.

Ledecky echoed that respect.

“I think her smile brings people to her,” Ledecky said of Schmitt. “She’s just such a good friend to everyone, and no matter the outcome, she’s someone that you know has put in the work and done it over so many years. Qualifying for four Olympics is incredible, and it’s no easy task, and individually as well…. She has just been such a force in our sport, both in and out of the pool. I think my first interaction with her was probably in 2011 at — no, 2012 in the spring at the Charlotte UltraSwim. That was kind of a breakout meet for me and I got to race Allison a few times and was just thrilled to be in a lane next to her. She was so kind and so supportive and just —I think she was there, Michael was there, and of course they’re good friends, and all these Olympians, Katie Hoff I think was there. She gave me the award the other night.They were all coming up to me saying, ‘good job,’ or ‘keep it up.’ So then we went to London together, obviously, Schmitty and I, and I got to know her there, but I think our friendship has really taken off over the last couple years, and we’ve been on a lot of trips together. I’m excited … she will bring great leadership again, both in and out of the pool.”

Schmitt’s first relay involved legends Natalie Coughlin and Hoff. She spanned a generation of teaming with Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer and Missy Franklin on relays and now will be joined on a relay with Ledecky, Madden and McLaughlin.

“It is a huge honor,” McLaughlin said. “She is such an amazing leader. She cares about everyone as much as her own swimming. She is such a steady positive energy that is really amazing to be around. I feel really honored to be on the relay with her.”

Madden agreed.

“It is pretty surreal. I never thought I would be in this position. She is an amazing person,” Madden said. “I have looked up to her for a long time.”

“Watching these reactions of girls make the team, you can see the pride to be a USA Olympian, which is a huge honor,” Schmitt said.

Now, Schmitt has that honor four times, something only Dara Torres, Jenny Thompson, Jill Sterkel and Amanda Beard have accomplished.

“Those names are the top of swimming,” Schmitt said. “To be included is an honor. But I know there is still more work to do.”