Natalie Hinds, Olivia Smoliga Share Rare Bond, Now Olympic Teammates: ‘That is Why This is So Special For Us’

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Natalie Hinds and Olivia Smoliga are seemingly inseparable.

In practice, they swim together. Both breathe on opposite sides for freestyle, so they spend most training sessions facing each other.

That was the case in Friday’s 100 freestyle final as well. After finishing the semifinals in a stunning tie, the duo faced each other — literally — in the finals. Just like in practice, they pushed each other and both punched their ticket to Tokyo by earning relay spots in the 4×100 relay, taking third and fourth in the 100 free.

Fitting, since they are almost inseparable.

“This is such a full-circle moment for us. I know Liv feels the same,” Natalie Hinds said. “She has been there with me since I was out of shape and since then, we have gone through the ups and the downs, all the Pro Swim Series, all the hard practices, and this is just so special. Like we were saying earlier, we were next to each other in this final and she breathes to her right, and I breathe to my left so it was literally like practice, kind of glorified but it was nice to have that, and I think that helped us.”

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Olivia Smoliga, Abbey Weitzeil and Natalie Hinds. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

That incredible bond started after Hinds had retired from swimming. After starring at the University of Florida, she left the sport after graduation. But the passion was still there and she made a comeback, deciding to train in Athens, Georgia, alongside Smoliga.

“This is incredible to have been right next to Nat and right next to Abbey (Weitzeil), because I know both of them take it out. I know I have to do work coming back, but I like it that way. This has been incredible.”

It didn’t start incredibly for Smoliga. Looking poised to repeat as an Olympian in the 100 backstroke, she was touched out for the second spot, finishing third. She had to deal with those heartbreaking emotions and come out of it ready to turn the page into the freestyle.

This time, when she saw she was on the team, emotions poured out of her when she saw the board, and again when she got her medal.

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Olivia Smoliga. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

“I can’t even describe the things that were going on in my head after the 100 back and how I really had to dig myself up out of it, but I’m really proud of myself that I did,” Smoliga said. “This was really tough. I feel like part of the reason why I was so emotional after this 100 free was missing the team in the 100 back was so hard. It didn’t hit me immediately after because I knew I had this 100 free coming up. What you tell yourself, like Abbey said, how you try to bounce back, it’s something I’m really grateful for because it was really hard to get through it. Having the opportunity to race these girls here to push me to be my best, I mean, you don’t put in years of work for nothing. You have to remind yourself of that.”

Natalie Hinds had to remind herself after 2016 that she still loved the sport — and could compete at that level.

“I took a break after 2016 Trials and after the 50 I just went home for three months, then I graduated college and got a regular job. Then I moved to Atlanta, and I worked for Turner Broadcasting for a year-long internship, which I absolutely loved. Then I don’t know, I saw 2018 Nationals and I was like, man, they’re having a lot of fun. I was sitting at a desk 9 to 5, and I was like, I don’t want to do this anymore. So I had a conversation with my parents and decided, like, OK, I’m going to do this. Then I moved to Athens within the next five days after that decision, and it was scary. I feel like the reason I’m so emotional that I made this team is because I’m just really proud of the courage and vulnerability that I showed myself, that I had a goal and I did absolutely everything that I could do to obtain that goal, and I finally did.

“So that break for me was such a blessing. I learned mostly that, you know, walking on deck here I was like, I have a different perspective. I know what life is like outside of swimming, so I know how much I love swimming and how much this moment means to me. I think that’s what I learned from the break. It was a good mental break for me as well.”

And she reconnected with Smoliga.

“She slept on my couch for the weekend to just see what’s up and the next weekend, she moved to Athens,” Olivia Smoliga said.

“That’s why it’s so emotional because Liv is the first person I saw when I drove and parked in Athens, and she did nothing but help me,” Natalie Hinds said. “She helped me set everything up, helped me with setting up weights and coaches and, this is what we do here. I’m so grateful for her, and that’s why this moment is so special for us.”

Now, more special moments are in store as they will be almost inseparable in Tokyo, not just as Olympic teammates but get to swim on the same relay in Tokyo aiming for a gold medal — together.

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Olivia Smoliga and Natalie Hinds. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

 

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