Olivia Smoliga on Training With Simone Manuel: ‘She Brings Out the Dawg in Me’

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

When Olivia Smoliga made her first Olympic team, it was in the 100 backstroke.

That was her focus, and that is where her big performance came from.

But along the way, her freestyle started to improve – and improve.

In 2021, she was close in the backstroke but made her second Olympic team as part of the 400 freestyle relay.

Now, aiming for her third team, her focus is completely on the sprint freestyle events. She even scratched the 100 backstroke altogether. She made the semifinals for the 100 freestyle.

“It is different. My focus here is freestyle and I scratched out of the freestyle because the lineup is different this time around, and I wanted to give myself the best shot here,” Olivia Smoliga said. “My training focus has been different and it is really fun to race girls you hope will be on a relay with at the end of the summer.”

Making the relay for Tokyo was the turning point.

“It kind of solidified it for me. It was a great step and then I wanted to take the next step with freestyle and wanted to see if I could better myself and use the momentum of last summer,” Olivia Smoliga said. “It is so envigorating. When you taste a little bit of that, you just want more. It feels like flying in the water and I am so grateful that I was able to get better in a different stroke after predominately being a backstroke.”

But after all of these years, two Olympic teams, a plethora of Olympic, world championship and NCAA medals, Smoliga still gets worked up before a big race.

“I still get nervous. My hands were shaking when I was eating breakfast. I like that pressure. Maybe that is weird that we keep coming back when we are so anxious” she said. “You can use those good nerves to your advantage.”

Since her move to Arizona State, she has trained with a sprint group that includes Simone Manuel, who is also competing in the 100 free and 50 free alongside Smoliga. They are two of the veterans of the U.S. team as well as the event, along with Abbey Weitzeil and Catie DeLoof – along with some younger guns like Gretchen Walsh, Torri Huske, Kate Douglass and Erin Gemmell.

“It is like swimming with your best friends, swimming with your homies. I have known them for 10-plus years,” Olivia Smoliga said. “I have been training with Simone this entire year at ASU. Being able to race against Simone has been one of the greatest joys and challenges of my career. She is such a dawg and I love that it brings out the dawg in me.”

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