By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, January 24, 2017
What a year 2016 was for Hali Flickinger, and 2017 looks to be promising as well. Last year, she helped Georgia win an NCAA title, made the Olympic team in the 200 fly, and finaled in Rio, claiming seventh place. Now signed with Speedo, she’s looking forward -- but not too far ahead, as she explains in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. What did it feel like to make the Olympic team?
Hali: Honestly I had to re-check the scoreboard to make sure that “2” was by my name. Trials didn’t go the way I wanted. I didn’t swim as well as I wanted if you look at the times. It wasn’t that great. It was nerve-racking. A lot of nerves there. Thankfully things fell into place.
2. You did well in Austin last week. That felt good didn’t it?
Hali: It did and my times show I am moving in the direction I am looking and hoping for. But back to Trials -- there was just a lot going on, and I was very relieved to make the team. That is a lifetime dream come true.
3. So you are a pro athlete, but you aren’t focusing yet on 2020?
Hali: I actually don’t know what I am going to do. I am setting goals and setting goals day by day -- I swam fast at Austin because I changed that mindset. I am no longer thinking of four years from now.
4. Pretty fun to be a pro athlete like this now?
Hali: It’s awesome. I talked to my friends and my family about it all the time. As a young swimmer you look up to Speedo swimmers all the time and it’s unreal, I am now in that position as one of them. I never thought it would happen, and I couldn’t be more happy about it.
5. So for you, it’s a natural fit, so to speak?
Hali: As a young kid, you are wearing Speedo -- and in part it’s because the ones you look up to on those posters that are everywhere are in it, so all you want is that suit. You see those posters and it’s crazy to think I am part of that. What an honor.
6. Happily married -- how’s that going with Martin (Grodzki)?
Hali: I’m just so happy with him. He makes me so happy. I truly do not believe I could have accomplished what I did this summer and the last 3½ years, or four. Actually, I think it’s four, going on five (laughs). It’s been so long, actually 4½ years! I’m super excited to be married to my best friend and moving through life together
7. Is that a lesson from the last quad?
Hali: That had a big pull on me when I got to Trials and I realized that was all I thought of the last four years, Now, it is not. I could go the next four years, or maybe I won’t. The best part about it is being in the moment right now.
8. So making the team this time -- that relief is palpable?
Hali: I accomplished making the Olympics and that is what I wanted. I wanted that out of the way, a goal realized, and I feel like now I can truly live the way I see fit, and that has me more excited about the future.
9. What was the walkout like in Rio?
Hali: It was literally the coolest feeling to walk out to the pool and be surrounded by your teammates. All the other countries were looking at you. USA Swimming has built such a culture that our Olympic swim team is the best there is, and one of the best teams in all of Olympic sports. To be alongside of such amazing athletes…the best part of Rio was my teammates and being part of that U.S. Olympic swim team family.
10. What’s memorable outside of the swimming from Rio?
Hali: The day to day experiences, seeing all the sports and the other athletes. Running into Serena Williams in the dining hall. Things like that were really cool and all part of a dream come true.
11. A relief also to final?
Hali: I wasn’t seeded to make the final but in my mind I knew I could, and (Georgia coach and Olympic assistant coach) Jack (Bauerle) knew I could. I’m a lot faster than what I have shown. So just making it in there and making that progress was big for me. And I’ll never take making the Olympic team for granted. I am so happy I did that. I have a little more to prove -- I know that, that there is more work left to do. Of course you want to do better and medal, but I felt like getting into the final was a big accomplishment for me. I have to mention if you don’t mind that I would not have made that team if it wasn’t for Jack. I came into Georgia not all that good. Jack believed in me. He believes in everyone he brings in because he knows their potential. So he’s going to do everything he can to be there every step of the way, even if you aren’t believing in yourself. Jack was there to remind me of what I can do, and who I am. He is more of a father figure to me than even a coach. That is so, so special. Not many people can say that. I can go on and on about Jack. He has done wonders for me and everyone on that team, not just as swimmers but as people.
12. How did you handle coming back down to earth after the Olympics and what is that adjustment like?
Hali: I mean, it’s really hard to explain the feeling that you have. A few months ago, after the Olympics were over, I was with my best friend -- all the hype had gone down, my (hometown) had that great parade and everything for me, and it was only months later after Rio that talking about it with my best friend, I started to cry. Just tears coming down my cheeks when I talked about the experience of making the team, and how special that is. It’s hard to talk about it because it means so much. To call yourself an Olympian is so amazing. And I think the rest of my life I will choke up talking about it because it is so special.
13. And this new life as a married woman -- I bet your friends are also happy about that for you?
Hali: The actual ceremony is going to be this summer. It’s been really crazy, so we will do that part of it this summer. But yes, we’re married -- that’s out there! But honestly, since that day, nothing has really changed. I mean, I knew a few weeks after I met him, which is crazy to think, that we were going to be together forever. Now though, my life has changed in that we make all our decisions together and that is a great thing. We take it day by day. If tomorrow I choose not to go to practice or do something else, I know he’ll help me with the decision and support me either way. I know if I keep going to 2020, he’ll be my biggest supporter.
14. So the laser like focus you had for 2016 is something you won’t seek this time?
Hali: Something that I really struggled with before was looking way too far ahead. That I think really hurt me rather than benefitted me. After the Olympics when I took a few months off I was finally able to realize I can’t look that far ahead - you drive yourself insane, and that’s what I did. So I am actually swimming faster because I am swimming for now, and the next meet, rather than for a goal four years away.
15. Did that sort of make your performance in Austin at the Arena Pro Swim Series that much sweeter?
Hali: For sure because I didn’t know what to expect because I had not done that much long course, or had even raced much, because I was out of the water for a very long time. So now it’s more fun. Doing well in Austin gives me confidence in the way I am approaching everything now. I have just changed the way I am doing things, from weights to everything else. And I know it’s going to be okay as long as I take it day by day.
16. Speaking of Georgia and Trials and the Olympics, how about Jay Litherland and Chase Kalisz, along with the other UGA women who made the team and did great and/or medaled?
Hali: I mean, it’s awesome to be able to race them every day -- I actually race with the guys in practice even though they crush me! We are together every day. To see everyone’s dreams come true was so special. I think we did well pushing each other, and encouraging each other. I’m still training with the Georgia (college swimmers) even though I’m a (post-grad) now and not on the team itself.
17. What did Simone Manuel show you in making history in Rio?
Hali: Simone is incredible. Her approach to it is amazing. It couldn’t have happened to a better, more honest person. I got to watch her races. The sweetest part about that was to watch Greg (Meehan, Stanford head coach and Olympic assistant coach), because it was his tears that made all of us cry. Just to see what went into that for Simone and everyone around her was freaking awesome. Being there to train with her at camp was just amazing.
18. What about Katie Ledecky?
Hali: Katie does things in practice that are absolutely incredible. It’s so cool how she’s changing the sport. It’s truly an inspiration to watch her, how she trains and what a tough, tough person she is. At Stanford she is killing it in school and swimming. She continues to raise the bar in our sport, which is so cool -- and so important.
19. You must, with your “terms and conditions” approach now, be incredibly inspired by what Maya DiRado did -- and how she went about it?
Hali: The decision Maya had made and how she went about it -- and then what she accomplished, made me so proud. That she knew what she wanted, and how she was going to go about it -- which is really a different mindset -- was what made her story so great. She has so many goals in her life out of swimming. And that is so cool. She wanted to do other things. Even at camp she was showing us pictures of her new house and where she was going to work and how excited she and her husband were about it. That was her path and she chose it and went about it so perfectly. Being married and out of school now, I could really appreciate and relate to her, and I hope to move in that direction.
20. So all this great stuff in 2016, what did it teach you about yourself and how did it change, really, your life?
Hali: Well, getting engaged right after (laughs) I won an NCAA Championship was special, and then I got married to my best friend. And then made the Olympic team. Also, when we were at training camp in Atlanta my husband came to visit me for a day or so, and we decided to go to an animal shelter in Atlanta and got this little tuxedo cat, a gray short hair, who we just love with all our heart. As far as what the experiences from swimming (have taught me), it definitely taught me that I am very goal oriented. Once I have a goal in my mind it’s really hard to get me away from it. Almost everything I do in life -- school, relationships, swimming -- is all goal-oriented. Even now, with starting a new approach, it is still very clearly a set of goals. And nothing will ever stop me from accomplishing my goals. And I will take that skill with me into life, with my career and family. So I think I’m super fortunate to have developed that mindset and plan to continue that approach for the rest of my life. It’s ironic that so many people couldn’t wait for 2016 to end -- I don’t care what anyone says, I thought 2016 was a great year!