Louise Hansson Got Best of Both Worlds From College Swimming

louise hansson
USC's Louise Hansson at the 2019 NCAA championships -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Editorial content for the 2020 NCAA DI Women's Swimming & Diving Championships coverage is sponsored by GMX7 Training. See full event coverage.
Follow GMX7 Training on Instagram at @gmx7training #gmx7training

GM7 Training Logo

Swedish swimmer Louise Hansson never envisioned herself swimming in college in the United States. But as she prepares for this month’s women’s NCAAs, the University of Southern California senior says that moving to the U.S. was the best thing she’s ever done.

At her first Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Louise Hansson swam two individual events (finishing as high as 29th) and on three relays, two of which advanced to the Olympic final. Afterward, Hansson returned home to Helsingborg, Sweden—for just 48 hours.

Immediately, she flew back across the Atlantic Ocean to Los Angeles, where she arrived at the University of Southern California for her freshman year. Before that, Hansson had never visited USC—either before or after committing to swim for the Trojans—and she had missed the team’s welcome week while competing in Rio.

Before she came to the U.S. and became a national champion, Hansson knew little about college swimming or short course yards. Growing up, she just knew she wanted no part of it.

“When I was younger, I would be like, ‘No, I’m never moving to the U.S.,’” Hansson said. “I had a few friends going to college because I was the youngest on my club team at home in Sweden. I was like, ‘No way, I’m not going.’ As I grew older, people really loved it, and I was like, ‘OK, maybe I should check this out.’”

Fellow Swedish national team swimmers Stina Gardell and Henrik Stenqvist helped push Hansson toward USC. In L.A., Hansson found a culture different than anything she had experienced before, but her years of swimming-related world travel had prepared her for the adjustment. However, she was not prepared for short course yards, and she spent her first year hitting her feet on the gutter when doing flipturns and not knowing what her times meant.

Very quickly, though, Hansson found her footing in NCAA competition. As a freshman, she finished third in the 100 fly and top-10 in two other events at the national championships. The next year, she won the NCAA title in the 100 fly. At that point, Hansson admitted of the performance, “I don’t think I quite understood how big it was.”


Louise Hansson Conquering a New Challenge

That same year, Hansson received a rude introduction to a new event, the 200 fly. At the mention of the eight-lap event, Hansson laughed. “The luck of becoming a 200 flyer!” she said, before following up with, “Oh, I really don’t like the 200 fly. I’m getting there, but that’s an event that I’ve been terrified to swim for years.”

She swam the event for the first time at a mid-season invitational in Austin, Texas, and beforehand, she insisted to USC coach Dave Salo, “I’m only doing prelims.” Salo then convinced her to swim in the final—and then again at the Pac-12 and NCAA Championships.

louise-hansson-

USC’s Louise Hansson in 2019 — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

At NCAAs, Hansson swam the first 100 yards in 52.54, leading the field by 8-tenths, only to fade badly. Stanford teammates Ella Eastin and Katie Drabot swam past Hansson on the last 50, and Hansson recorded the slowest split in the field before ending up third.

But as a junior, after finishing seventh in the 100-meter fly at the European Championships over the summer, Hansson returned to USC as the clear top butterflyer in college swimming. At the Pac-12 Championships, she recorded the fastest time ever in the 100 yard fly, her 49.34 knocking off Kelsi Worrell’s previous U.S. Open and NCAA record. A few weeks later at NCAAs, Hansson swam even faster, touching in 49.26 to defend her national title.

And this time, she successfully conquered the 200 fly. In a rematch of the previous year’s NCAA final, Hansson went out in a blistering 51.81 and held off a furious final 50 charge from Eastin, the American and U.S. Open record holder. Hansson ended up finishing in 1:50.28, making her the third-fastest performer in history, and quick enough to beat Eastin by 18-hundredths.

And even if she dreads the 200 fly and the pain that the race brings, Hansson said, “I know what to expect from it, and I have learned how to swim feeling that feeling.”


Best Decision Ever

Thinking back on her almost four seasons swimming at USC, Hansson said, “I would say that moving here and swimming in college has probably been the best thing I have ever chosen to do because I’ve grown so much as a person.” A moment later, she added, “But as a swimmer, I’ve grown even more.”

On the personal side, Hansson learned the same lessons as all teenagers at the beginning of college, living on their own with no family to rely on—although, unlike most USC freshmen, Hansson’s family was half a world and nine time zones away. And as for her swimming, NCAA racing forced Hansson to be at the top of her game against tough competition week after week, an experience she never would have had back home in Sweden.

          “Just always having to swim against fast swimmers at every meet—no matter if it’s Pac-12, NCAAs or a dual meet—there’s always going to be someone really quick that you will have to step up and race…and you just have to go for it. I think that really has helped me grow in my confidence in myself as a swimmer,” she said.

Racing a long course 100 fly twice in a day at a major meet? For Hansson, no big deal, not compared to racing four times in an hour against tough Pac-12 competition while wearing a practice suit. And she has taken that experience back to the international landscape.


Everything Coming Together for Louise Hansson

louise-hansson-50-fly-prelims-2019-world-championships

Louise Hansson on the blocks at the 2019 World Championships — Photo Courtesy:Becca Wyant

Competing at her fourth World Championships in 2019 in Gwangju, South Korea, Hansson had never before made it out of prelims in an individual event. But on the meet’s first day, she qualified seventh in the 100 meter fly prelims and then eighth in the semifinals to secure her spot in the final, lowering her lifetime best to 57.10. She ended up seventh in the final.

“My times going into the meet have always been times that could make the semifinal or the final, so that’s always been a goal, but I’ve never achieved it. So making the semifinal was such a relief,” Hansson said. “Going a best time in the semifinal was perfect timing. I couldn’t be happier. I dropped over a second this summer. It was a great summer, and it really helped build my confidence. I feel like my swimming is coming together.”

For for her senior season at USC, Hansson was on the short list for headliners at the NCAA Championships, where she was expected to race in defense of her national titles in both butterfly races and contend in the 200 IM, prior to the meet’s cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Heading into conference championships, Hansson owns the third-best time in the country in the 100 yard fly, but she trails two worthy rivals, Michigan’s Maggie MacNeil and Tennessee’s Erika Brown. MacNeil, who upset world record holder Sarah Sjostrom to win the long course version of the event last summer, tied Hansson’s U.S. Open and NCAA 100 fly short course records in December, and Brown swam a 49.38 at the SEC championships to break the American record and become the third-fastest performer in history.

“I’m ready to give them a fight,” Hansson said earlier this winter. Unfortunately, due to the meet’s cancellation, that anticipated showdown never materialized.


Whatever Feels Right

Beyond the culmination of her NCAA swimming career, Hansson will remain at USC to prepare for her second Olympics in Tokyo, where she should be a force in the 100 fly and a key contributor to three Swedish relay squads, each of which could qualify for the final. Beyond that, Hansson isn’t sure where she will go next.

She might choose to stay in the U.S., or maybe she will move to Australia or to England. “I’m very curious to explore my options,” Hansson said. “I’m just going by feeling. Whatever feels right, I’m just going to go with.”

Wherever she does end up, she will continue to rely on her many valuable experiences—including the Olympics and World Championships and her time at USC—to keep pushing toward the ultimate objective: becoming one of the very best in the world.

“I have grown up swimming against (world record holders) Therese Alshammar and Sarah Sjostrom, and I’ve always gotten to race the best in the world,” Hansson said. “Obviously, I want to be up there with them. I’m taking steps in the right direction. My goal is to be up there and compete against the best. That’s always been my goal.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.