Cierra Runge Breaks Down Rio and First Year As A Wisconsin Badger

Photo Courtesy: Brendan Maloney

By Robert Griswold, Swimming World College Intern.

Cierra Runge has dominated in the pool at every level of the sport. The rising junior at the University of Wisconsin swam in the morning heats of Team USA’s Olympic-gold-winning 4×200 freestyle relay in Rio last summer. In addition to her Olympic accolades, she has also competed and medaled at several international meets including World Championships, Pan Pacs, Junior World Championships and NCAAs.

Swimming World recently sat down with Cierra to reflect on the past year as well as looking toward World Championship Trials this June.

Swimming World: What has been the highlight of your career?

Cierra Runge: I would definitely have to say Rio. Just to even be on that relay with those girls in the morning and to just dive in and to be a part of that relay and part of Team USA was just something that was a dream come true. It was really funny because I remember being on the ready room and thinking to myself, first off, “Oh my God, I’m here”, and then secondly, “It’s just another meet.” Walking out and seeing the pool was just so surreal. It’s one of those things where you kind of just look back and you’re like “holy crap”. It was insane because I was on the prelims relay and at finals when Katie Ledecky touched the wall, I just broke down.


Photo Courtesy: Jack Gruber-USA TODAY Sports

SW: What is an obstacle that you have had to face in order to be as successful as you are today?

CR: I remember actually when I was younger some of the hardest things that I had to deal with were having to choose between “Do I go to the sleepover and miss a practice?” or “Do I miss this party and go to practice?” I remember my mom told me like a thousand times that you have to pick a normal and figure out what your normal is.

I remember there were multiple times that I was in the car driving to practice, crying, because I was missing out on the things that a normal high school students did. Then I remembered what my goal was and what I was able to do and it was like this is what I’m going to choose and this is what my normal is. When I was younger, it was incredibly difficult to choose. Once I did, I was one step closer to my goal. I look back at it and don’t regret a single decision that I made because it ultimately got me to where I wanted to be.

SW: Who would you consider to be a hero in your career?

CR: I think I have to go with Allison Schmitt on this one. She’s just an incredible person. I mean she’s been one of my best friends that I can literally go to with anything, and knowing what she went through and kind of now speaking out about it and working to change everything is insanely awesome. She has kept me grounded 110 percent and I’m so happy that we get to be really good friends.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

SW: What was getting back to training, as well as transferring to a new swimming program, like after Rio?

CR: It was hard. There was a lot of new stuff including a new team, new coaching staff, new swimming, getting right back into it after Rio, being in a new place and going back into college. It was a lot but it was good. I have friendships on this team that are incredible– that I can just be myself with, it’s pretty awesome.

I know that they are all there for me and the coaching staff really gets what I need in my swimming and we’re working on some stuff that I think is really good. I really enjoyed going back into an environment that was guys and girls. I love Madison (Wisconsin)– it’s beautiful now that it’s finally warming back up. It took a while to get adjusted but I’ve kind of got a flow of things now. It was a good choice.

SW: What was your favorite thing about the Olympic Village?

CR: I think just being able to walk around and just mingle with different people. Like you walk into the cafeteria and and in the village and you’re just bumping into people that you know from the past and different sports and you get to see athletes that you only really get to see in person at the Olympics. It was so cool even meeting people from Team USA just casually in the athlete lounge or even in the elevator.

SW: What are your goals going into World Championship Trials this year?

CR: I think, for me, going in and swimming the best that I can and to make the Worlds Team. Maybe in an individual, we’ll see. I would definitely love to be a part of a relay but I’m just kind of going in and seeing what happens and I think it’s going to be really good. I’m pretty excited for it.

SW: What is one key piece of advice that you would give to young swimmers?

CR: Do what you love, whatever it is. If it’s swimming, do that. If it’s something else, just push for your passion and love what you do because there’s no way you can get through a sport or anything this tough without loving it. There are times where it’s going to be rough and you’re going to hate it and want to quit but it’s those moments that you push through; you get stronger as a person, an athlete and a human being.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick


  1. Nicole I. Olie

    Oat Meal and look who wrote it!

    • Oat Meal

      That’s awesome

  2. avatar
    Bill Bell

    What was her rationale for leaving Cal — where arguably she had a shot @ an NCAA team title — to go back to Madison, where she may never win a Big Ten team title?

    Plus the diversity of the Cal program ( swimmers from Africa, Asia, Middle East, etc.) would be in my humble opinion an incredible acculturation experience not readily available in Wisconsin.

    But to each her own so best of luck, Cuerra, hope you make it to Budapest in a couple of events, come back energized for the ’17-’18 college season and remember: Ledecky, Smith and Rose Bi put their suits on just like you do, one leg @ a time!

    • avatar

      I’ve watched this girl swim and have followed her since she was a 6 and under. From the beginning she’s been GREAT athlete…grounded girl…humble family. There has been plenty of news surrounding a number of notable Cal females in past years to explain her move. Something there had to be worse than the cost of leaving…or what she went to was better than what she left behind? Why else would she leave a school like Berkeley or after having won Pac 12 Swimmer of the meet and was big part of the team winning the National Championship?? It couldn’t have been “homesickness” because she moved to Tempe, AZ. Can’t be grades because she’s academic all-american. I makes NO sense on the surface. According to news/comments a few years ago, Teri McKeever would not release her to any Pac 12 or top handful swimming programs. There’s always more to a story that isn’t out there.

    • avatar

      Olympic athletes, world-class swimmers, get lots of acculturation. They travel the world and mix with athletes from all corners, and pretty much don’t see anything but another athlete with another flag on their hat. Swimmers are all the same besides that. Places like Berkeley admit more foreigners to get higher tuition payments not to be a poster of diversity. Diversity isn’t limited to white versus Africa, Asia, the Middle East. Check your demographics, every university has diversity in a variety of ways. Please…don’t insinuate bull-crap. That’s low. Troll.

  3. avatar

    Great interview Cierra Runge. Keep up the good work.