Olivia Carter Uses Underwater Strength to Become NCAA Title Contender for Michigan

Photo Courtesy: Walt Middleton Photography

Olivia Carter has been training to be an elite swimmer since before she could walk.

Of course, she didn’t know it at the time — she was just having fun.

“I am very leg driven,” Carter told Swimming World. “It has always been that way with bigger and stronger legs. My parents would put me on the Johnny jump up and I would jump myself to sleep when I was about one.”

Little did Carter know it was the start of leg training that would eventually have her set the Big Ten record in the 200-yard butterfly — twice — for the University of Michigan.

That lower-body strength has been the driving force for Carter’s butterfly and the 5-foot-6 junior is the third seed (1:52.17) heading into the NCAA Division I Championships, just behind Texas’ Olivia Bray (1:52.03) and Georgia’s Dakota Luther (1:52.04).

“I started swimming the 200 fly as soon as I could. I was probably 10 or so when I could start swimming it in a real meet. I was definitely a butterflyer and backstroker growing up. It came naturally to me,” Carter said. “I just continued to progress in that event. As I got older in my teens I just started to emphasize the 200 fly. As I grew into it and accepted that, I started enjoying the back half and the strategy of it. Up until recently, I wasn’t able to take my 200 fly out very fast, and the third 50 is where I made my move. Most of the time I could hang on to win.”

Embracing Butterfly Strategy

Olivia Carter has seen her strategy change a little bit, strengthening her overall race.

“It is kind of exciting to stay behind a little bit and surge in the back half. I always found a lot of enjoyment,” she said. “Recently I have figured out how to take it out with the field and still hang on. But it is harder to make a more drastic move.”

Carter’s endurance as well as underwater strength has become a pivotal factor in her race as well.

“I find a lot of power through my legs and my core. My upper body strength is up and coming,” Carter said. “I can do like 8 or 9 pull-ups now instead of one. My stroke comes from my lower half, but as I am gaining upper body strength, I am gaining strength in my pull.”

She has learned that everyone swims the butterfly a little differently, which she has embraced.

Maggie (MacNeil) is very upper body driven so that has helped me. Now I am able to combine my upper body and lower body strength. Hali Flickenger’s fly looks different than mine, She is upper-body driven. I breathe to the side and everyone has a little bit different style. Some people’s second kick is the dominant kick and some people’s first kick is more dominant.”

Realizing that everyone’s style is different has helped Carter develop her own style and not worry about comparing her stroke to others.

The 2021 Women's Big Ten Swimming Championships hosted by the University of Minnesota, February 23-27, 2021

Olivia Carter. Photo Courtesy: Walt Middleton Photography

Building a Strong Legacy

She felt that way about her body as well.

“It wasn’t until recently that I really accepted my legs. They were just bigger than anyone else’s and I couldn’t find jeans that fit. It was a teenage dilemma. I embrace them now and rely on them to get me to the times I want in the pool,” Carter said. “It is just human nature to compare yourself to other people. When people faster than me had smaller legs it would make me naturally wonder if my legs were slowing me down, which in reality, it is how I am built and that is why I can do the things I do.”

Now, fully embracing herself in the water, she is ready to challenge for a national title close to home.

Carter is originally from Raleigh, North Carolina, but moved to Greensboro in 2016, the site of the 2021 NCAA Championships.

“I am so excited. (Greensboro) became my home pool for about three years or so,” she said. “I have a lot of fond memories in that pool — and I have had a lot of great swims in that pool. I am happy to go back to North Carolina. It is such a cool opportunity to be able to swim NCAAs there.”

The Right Move

After a strong Big Ten Championships, that included a repeat title in the 200 fly, Carter is trying to get the most out of her taper heading into nationals.

“The training period between Big Tens and NCAAs is always a bit dicey. This year, we only have a couple weeks in between. I didn’t rest a bunch for Big Tens so I could bounce back. I was very happy with how I swam at Big Tens, and it was indicative of the work I put in,” she said. “It puts a lot of stress on my body to have the meets so close together, but I know my body will be prepared. I am so excited to actually get to swim at NCAAs. The last time I swam it was 2019 when I was at the University of Georgia, which seems like ages ago.”

Carter, who has swam for Team USA at the World University Games and Junior Pan Pacific Championships, transferred to Michigan after her freshman season at Georgia.

“It was a personal decision. I just felt like I needed something a little different. I have all the respect for my coaches and teammates at Georgia, but I needed something different,” she said. “It was weird to kind of go through recruiting again. Ultimately I was drawn to Michigan. Rick Bishop just had such a vision for my swimming and had such an insight. He brought us a spreadsheet with how fast I have gone and goals moving forward. My family is a numbers family and that immediately was a sign for us.”

The 2021 Women's Big Ten Swimming Championships hosted by the University of Minnesota, February 23-27, 2021

Olivia Carter. Photo Courtesy: Walt Middleton Photography

She clicked immediately with one of her training partners, too.

“I had a great interaction with Maggie MacNeil there and that helped a lot. I saw her as an amazing training partner and that is evident in my times in the butterfly and even the freestyle,” Carter said. “It is amazing how much she has pushed me and that friendship is so great. We want to be great and want to be great together.”

That is the mantra of the Wolverines heading into NCAAs aiming for another top-five finish.

Wolverine Pride

“I have some pretty big goals for myself and the team. I definitely want to improve my butterfly time,” she said. “I know records are meant to be broken, so I don’t get to caught up in them. I use other people’s records as motivation. I feel like I swam well last year at Big Tens, but it wasn’t my best time, so I was a little underwhelmed. But this year to break it by a second and go a best time is a much more overwhelming feeling.

“Next year, you best bet I will use that time as a record to beat again. I use them as goals and pinpoints.”

As for the Wolverines, Carter will also have a key relay role, including swimming the butterfly on medley relays but also as part of the freestyle relays.

“I was very excited about the 400 medley relay at Big Tens last year. I felt like I fit in well there, but the fact that we won the 400 free relay with the same four swimmers on the medley is really cool,” Olivia Carter said. “From my club days, I train to be a Swiss Army Knife as my old coach used to say. I never imagined me being on a 200 free relay, but I never saw myself going a 22.2 either. I take pride in rising to the occasion, especially on a relay. Winning the last relay at Big Tens was a huge deal for us especially since we didn’t win the meet. I am so proud of our team for putting up some really awesome relays.”

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