Olivia Smoliga Says Post-Worlds Break ‘Put Everything In Perspective’ On Way To Pro-Tour Debut

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Olivia Smoliga after winning gold at the 2019 World Championships. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Olivia Smoliga, Cali Condors. In the lead-up to the first International Swimming League pro-team season, Swimming World will look at some of the pioneers of a new chapter unfolding in the sport. Today: the World 50m backstroke champion.

Pioneers Of Pro-Team Swimming

Few swimmers have ever shown as much emotion as Olivia Smoliga.

After a thrilling victory or devastating defeat, Smoliga’s feelings are well known by everyone watching before she gets out of the pool.

That emotion has helped propel Smoliga to become an Olympian and world champion.

It also takes a toll — especially the negative emotion.

“I hate how hard I am on myself sometimes, dwelling on the negative instead of celebrating the positive,” Smoliga told Swimming World.

It is something the 24-year-old is improving upon, helping her mental approach to racing and recovering, but she has far from mastered it.

But Smoliga’s approach is very proactive and, for the first time, she made sure to take advantage of the break between the 2019 World Championships and the upcoming debut of the International Swimming League  next month.

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Olivia Smoliga; Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Stepping away from the pool has turned out to be even more important for Smoliga to reset mentally in addition to physically recovering.

“There aren’t many breaks,” she said of pro swimming. “Up until college, I never thought about taking those mental breaks. You don’t think about the mental side as much when you were younger. I wish I had taken more mental breaks when I was in high school because they are important. I wish I knew how to deal more with things.”

Smoliga took advantage after worlds, taking a family vacation in Mexico.

“It give me time to reflect and write down my thoughts and goals. It gives you more structure for your training,” she said. “When I was in Mexico, I was able to unwind and tried not to think about swimming much.”

Of course it happened as she talked out her season, including performance a worlds, with her family.

“My brother Matt is my favorite person in the entire world and now that we are older we can have more real, deep conversations,” Olivia Smoliga said. “I talked to him about how I did at worlds. I always want to do better. I feel like I fall short a lot. He helped put everything in perspective.”

Her brother is a hockey player in the North American Hockey League. Their bond as siblings and athletes has been huge for Olivia.

“He is my hype man. He is calm, smart and easy going.

He reminded me it was the best meet of my life so far, winning two individual medals at worlds. I had a chip on my shoulder, wanting to do better,” she said. “My family just wanted to celebrate everything I did. We talked about how we approach competition. We are so similar in so many ways.

“Mexico was everything I needed.”

Smoliga was able to fully appreciate winning her first long-course world championship. She won the 50 backstroke in 27.33, also winning the bronze medal in the 100 back. She also had a spectacular performance at short-course worlds last year, hauling in eight medals. It returned Smoliga to the world’s elite.

Harnessing her emotions, or at least, being able to move past a disappointing finish, has been key for Smoliga.

“I have a hard time hiding it. If I am happy, I’m happy. If I am pissed, I’m pissed,” she said. “There is always time to think. You think all season. There is underlying pressure. Why not start fresh and get all of your ducks in a row mentally.”

Now, Smoliga has those ducks in a row as she is a part of history with the ISL before the stretch run in an Olympic year.

Having the ISL competitions in the fall will give the world’s elite swimmers more opportunities to race when they are in the middle of heavy training. Racing tired will only benefit everyone, Smoliga said.

“I am most excited to just be racing. I felt like I did not get enough of that last year,” she said. “Traveling and being able to race well in any circumstance in any place will benefit every athlete. You just have to be racing when you are tired. You just want to beat the person next to you, which is the mentality going into trials. It is the perfect transition.”

Smoliga will compete for the Cali Condors of the ISL, a team run by Jason Lezak.

“You have athletes like Natalie Coughlin coming back. It gives athletes a chance to compete like other athletes get to do in other sports,” Olivia Smoliga said. “Jason is such an incredible racer and to be under his wing a little bit — pun intended for the Condors — is such a big deal.”

Being a part of the first professional swimming league is enough to get Smoliga, and the rest of the athletes, excited for something new — and important for the sport.

“This is the coolest thing I have ever been a part of,” she said. “I take a lot of pride in it. I feel special to be in consideration for this. I had multiple teams interested in my. That is such a sense of pride. It is the first league to be doing this and I get to be a part of it, talking about it for years.

We are building these blocks. I hope it is the most successful thing ever.”

Smoliga, like many swimmers, thrived in college being a part of a team atmosphere. She is looking forward to that vibe in the ISL.

“It is going to be sweet,” she said. “We will all compete against each other, but we are going to be able to build bonds together on a team setting. I love that. I thrive so much at Georgia, because you just wanted to score points for your team.”

Bringing out the team atmosphere while helping swimmers from around the world prepare for an Olympic year will make this a rare fall in the sport.

“It will bring the swimming world closer together,” Smoliga said. “We are just going to be wanting to see everyone else succeed as well, which is something beautiful for the sport.”

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Olivia Smoliga; Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

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