By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, January 26, 2018
No matter how disappointing swimming and times and results last year were for Molly Hannis – particularly after the fantastic year she had in 2016 – nothing rivaled the tragedy that happened to her family home and neighborhood last October.
Her parents lost their home when the majority of their Santa Rosa, Calif., neighborhood was consumed by the Tubbs wildfires that ravaged Northern California.
“My parents have been living in a hotel for nearly two months now, and when I visited for Christmas, I stayed with them in the hotel, too,” Hannis said. “They lost pretty much everything, but they’re doing well and keeping optimistic. Other families lost as much or more, so we were actually quite fortunate.”
On the other side of the country, Hannis continues to live and train in Knoxville, Tenn., where she attended college at the University of Tennessee.
She said she’s quite content living independently in her college town while she trains full-time and swims professionally. After graduating from Tennessee in 2015, Hannis stayed to train for a shot at her first Olympic team the following year.
She said her training over the course of that year leading up to 2016 Olympic Trials was “very intense” – something she admits she was unable to duplicate in 2017.
But it proved to be enough to propel her to the Rio Olympic team in the 200 breaststroke – an event she wouldn’t have bet on making prior to the meet.
“The year leading up to Trials was the most consistently on-point that my training has ever been in my career, and I was swimming some really fast times,” she said. “The 100 (breast) has been my better event for the majority of my career, but when my coach and I laid out my training plan for 2016, we agreed I’d train just as much for the 200 as the 100.
“As it turned out, I didn’t make the team early in the week in the 100 (3rd place) but had some really great swims in the 200.”
Her runner-up finish earned Hannis a seat on the plane to Rio – fulfilling a long-time dream she had since she joined her local club team as a 5-year-old.
And even though she made her first senior-level team the summer before Trials – finishing sixth in the 200 breast at 2015 World University Games – she admitted it wasn’t until later that year that she truly started to believe she had a legitimate shot at making the Olympic team in 2016.
“The Olympics were everything I’d hoped they would be,” Hannis said. “Walking in the Opening Ceremonies was an amazing experience – something I’ll never forget. Only four of us from swimming were able to go because our events were later in the week, but being part of such an iconic event will always be one of my best memories.”
And even though she didn’t medal in Rio – she finished 16th in the 200 breast semifinals, which was her goal going into the meet – Hannis said she left Rio with a camera and mind full of great experiences.
“I remember being really nervous before prelims in my event and thinking to myself that I wanted to just swim well enough to get a second swim,” she said. “When I made the semifinals, I relaxed some, and that may have taken the edge off of my semifinal swim. Still, the overall experience was life-changing. It was so much fun.”
While she’s hoping last season was a blip on her swimming radar – she missed making the 2017 World Championship team – Hannis said she’s seeing some strong in-season times so far this year in training and early competition.
She said she’s optimistic she’s on track for some fast results this summer at Phillips 66 USA Swimming National Championships.
Her times and results at the TYR Pro Swim Series at Austin earlier this month – third in the 100 breast and sixth in the 200 – are good signs of that.
She said last season gave her some unexpected perceptions about how much she loves swimming and how important it is to her.
“My training in 2016 was so intense, I’m not sure I could have matched it in 2017, and that took me some time to accept and adjust,” she said. “Now, I’m training my weaker strokes – mainly the backstroke and butterfly – and that’s helping me with my breaststroke results.
“I’m really looking forward to the rest of the spring season – I’m planning to compete at the Pro Swim Series events in Atlanta and Mesa – before Nationals. I want to be in the best swimming shape I can heading into Nationals so I can give it my best shot at making the (2018) Pan Pacific and (2019) World Championships teams. It’s all leading toward Tokyo in 2020.”