By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, November 7, 2017
With gold in Budapest at the 2017 World Championships, 2016 Rio Olympian Hali Flickinger raised her international medal total to a pair of golds (and a 400 IM bronze). The Hungary experience though did more than add to her haul of precious medals -- it made her realize she still has more left. The University of Georgia product, who helped lead Jack Bauerle’s team to NCAA titles in three of her four years, also recently got married. She explains how her recent experiences have changed the direction of her journey in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. The gold in Budapest at Worlds -- what’s it mean?
Hali: Gold. It was super special. I didn’t think I would be on the (4x200) relay (after making the team in the 200 fly), especially after a really disappointing Trials and a really disappointing 200 fly (at Worlds). I thought my meet was over.
2. How did you come to be on the relay?
Hali: (National Team Director) Frank (Busch) and (Worlds head coach) Greg (Meehan) asked me to be on the relay. That too was super special. I felt I was able to do something for our country and Team USA. It made me feel so much better that I was able to help and be a part of the team.
3. What was the experience itself like, especially after being a 200 flyer and IMer until that point internationally?
Hali: It was cool, super cool, I have never been on a relay at that level. I would do anything for the team and help them out to be our best and win more medals for Team USA. It’s even more special that the coaches trusted me enough to put me on it. That means the world to me, knowing people like that believe in me. That will always get me more motivation in practice moving forward.
4. What did the gold do for you personally?
Hali: I mean, it’s cool that I was on a relay and all, but it was definitely a team effort. It is really special, but I know there is so much more that is out there and can be done. It was super special and super cool, and I am so happy.
5. Did stepping up when you had no idea you’d be swimming the relay help your mindset moving forward?
Hali: For sure, it was super unexpected. Like I said, I thought my meet was over. I wasn’t even sure -- I thought maybe even my swimming career was over. That relay helped me see how much I love this sport.
6. And to have it come with a 200 free swim, that’s kind of cool too, isn’t it?
Hali: I swim to swim, not just one thing -- I swim because I love it. That relay really showed me how much I love swimming. Even if I am mostly labeled a 200 flyer, which is fine, the fact is that I just love to swim, IM or back, and even (laughs) sometimes, breaststroke!
7. Getting that gold, holding it in your hand -- is that the memory you had been waiting for?
Hali: It was really, really special to have that happen. It was really cool to be a part of it. It’s always going to be one that I will always remember. It was really exciting.
8. And to have it happen in a city as beautiful and historical as Budapest -- what did you think of that amazing city and Hungary as a country?
Hali: I love Budapest! I have traveled quite a lot and seen quite a lot. Budapest was so special. It’ a place I want to go back to and explore more. They hosted a beautiful meet. So you have a beautiful city, the food, the city, and the Hungarian people were awesome swim folks and so nice to us all.
9. Did your husband, who had to miss Rio, finally get to see you swim for Team USA?
Hali: He got to see me! That made it fun. It was so special because I remember being in Rio last year with all the immigration stuff going on, he wasn’t allowed to come. This was the first time he was able to see me compete internationally. Hopefully, there will be more in the future.
10. Just curious, how much did the gold from Worlds propel you forward?
Hali: I was pretty down before that, and as mentioned I thought I was done after the 200 fly. I was really disappointed. And I was just tired of being disappointed. So (after Worlds), I took two months off with no water, no nothing. And I missed it! I love my teammates. I have been back a month now and am in full training so I plan to swim this next year.
11. Too early to say for how long?
Hali: 2020 is something I would love to do but something I can’t say yet that I will do, but it is a goal. I do love swimming. I love what I do, and to do it now like this (as a professional) but still swim with Georgia people, it’s great. I also love trying to get where I want to go. The growth comes from the journey, not so much from the destination. And wherever “there” is, I’m not there yet. So I want to keep going, learn more about what I can do, and along the way I will continue to learn more about myself.
12. Was it hard or odd to have that time off and get back in?
Hali: I knew after the time off that I needed to get back in the water. I need to prove I am still more than people have seen, that my best is there, that it is yet to come. So I am swimming full-time again. And I don’t know what the future holds -- maybe 2020, but we will see.
13. When you said Greg and Frank came to you, had you already moved on mentally and maybe even physically before you knew the relay was an option?
Hali: Yes. 100 percent yes. After the 2 fly, I said, I thought I was done, I didn’t warm down. I thought I was maybe even done with swimming! I got the call. I went and talked to Frank and I was immediately in. Of course I said, “Yes.” Then I ran up to the team room, got a massage, went to bed right away, and did everything I could as fast as I could for our team.
14. To be able to set Team USA up for gold on that relay, does that go back to all the championship and title experience in some ways from NCAAs?
Hali: It was, for me, definitely related. In college, you are put in events that help the team the most, so I wasn’t always in events where my strengths were, but where my team needed me. I did the 4 x 100 relay before, and in no way, shape or form (laughs) am I a sprinter. But you do that for your team. And I would always do anything for my team, no matter how I feel, or what the event is. The important thing is to be there for your team and do your best for them.
15. Following your Georgia teammate and classmate Olivia Smoliga’s evolution past injuries and her finding her best for Rio and Budapest, how cool is it that the two of you, so different, were able to summon your best when you needed it most?
Hali: We are very different but one thing that that is similar is our passion and our drive to work as a team. We are very determined, that is one quality we all have in that group (which includes Melanie Margalis). It’s super fun and intense in training sessions, just be with three people who really care about what they are doing and want to be better. We’re making each other better, too. I can always count on Olivia and Mel, especially since I train with Mel the most, to push me the most. The relationship among us three is super cool and maybe even very rare.
16. Hard to make Mel laugh?
Hali: No! Mel laughs at everything! She really does, literally everything. The thing is, we joke a lot to make each other smile. We know what we are doing is hard, and when you need to get through it, you find a way to enjoy it, and that comes from your teammates. We even get nervous before hard sets and then laugh at each other for being nervous about how much it was going to hurt!
17. So your Georgia football team is in contention for a title this year, what’s that like?
Hali: It’s actually super fun. To be completely honest, I’m not (laughs) the biggest football fan but it’s super cool to be able to root on such a determined team. When I’m not working, I’m actually watching the football team -- so I guess you can call me a bandwagon jumper. I have always rooted for them, I just don’t watch the games all the time.
18. Regan Smith, Mallory Comerford -- on and on, we spend a decade talking about the incredible “Phelps Effect” but now it’s obvious the young women are really boosting the sport, what’s that like?
Hali: The younger generation is getting faster Regan, little Regan -- she’s so cute! And Dakota (Luther), her, too! The young ones are getting so fast. The sport is just evolving, and the love for it among the younger ones is really there. There are even more great things to come, and this is just the start of really showing that. But it starts with their love and passion for swimming. And you can’t find anyone who has more passion than Mallory -- it’s incredible to watch her.
19. And the push for diversity has been so successful it seems like the roster, again, especially for the women, really shows that, right?
Hali: It is for sure diverse. I think what it is, is a cross section of America. Whether it’s Asian, Hispanic, African American -- we just have this great sport that people are falling in love with. And it’s from all over the United States.
20. I love hearing from people like you, from Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, or Mallory, from Plainwell, Michigan -- towns few have heard of in some cases. Does that make it special to have that small town support?
Hali: That’s funny because I did have to ask Mallory where she is from and she had to ask me -- we both probably had to find it on a map! For sure it’s a wonderful dynamic. I have met so many people from small towns. And it does make it very special to represent those little towns because your community takes so much pride in what you are doing. You come home, and everyone in town is so proud and knows every aspect of what you have done and wants to talk to you about it and congratulate you for it. That also shows the reach of swimming, how it is everywhere now and only getting even more popular. It makes me so happy to see it grown like this. And USA Swimming is only going to really continue that growth, which I think everyone will notice even more as great young swimmers continue to emerge as we get closer to 2020.