By Jim Rusnak//Director of Media Properties | Friday, July 27, 2018
IRVINE, Calif. – When Allison Schmitt walked away from the pool after the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, she thought she would never come back.
She was ready to move on. She had battled back from depression year after year and made the team. She won gold in the 800m free relay. She had triumphed.
In many people’s eyes – including her own – it was a fairy tale ending. It was time to move on and get a career. That’s what she thought she was supposed to do.
But she still loved swimming. She missed it. She started hitting the water again last September with the team at Arizona State University, where she’s been taking classes.
At first it was once or twice a week. Then by January, she was in the water full-time.
“At first it was just to get in shape and to get tan,” Schmitt said. “Once I started going more and more, the ASU team was so welcoming. They were like, ’Hey are you going to practice today?’ I was like, ‘No, I hit my quota – two practices a week.’ But then they started asking more, and I was like OK, I don’t have anything better to do for two hours. It turned into that, and I was having so much fun with it.”
And so began the comeback trail for Schmitt, with her eyes on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
On Thursday at the Phillips 66 National Championships, she passed the first major mile-marker on her journey, finishing second in the 200m freestyle behind fellow Olympian Katie Ledecky and qualifying for the 2018 U.S. Pan Pacific Championships Team in that event.
Her time of 1:55.82 was about two seconds off the American record of 1:53.61 she set winning gold in the 200 at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, but she was satisfied with the result.
“It definitely means a lot, and I’m ecstatic to be going to Tokyo,” Schmitt said. “But like I said, if I wasn’t going to Tokyo, I’m still happy with the journey that I’m on, and I know there’s a lot more work to be put in. I’m ecstatic to see this where I am right now in my journey. To be able to go 1:55, and to make it to Tokyo (for Pan Pacs) and compete internationally again, I’m excited for that.”
Schmitt said afterward that she has two passions in life – swimming and mental health – and knows her success in the former gives her a platform to promote the latter. That much was clear as the crowd roared with approval after she qualified for the Pan Pacs Team, and all her National Team teammates congratulated her on deck.
“That my voice will be heard, I think that’s the biggest thing,” Schmitt said. “I know sometimes when people say things, you think it just goes out in outer space. To know that what I am saying about mental health – it’s OK not to be OK – it means the world if I can save one life, or 100s or millions or whatever it is. I’m happy if I can be vulnerable and speak out about it, and it helps someone else.”
As for her journey, whether she makes it to Tokyo for the Olympics in 2020 or not, she knows she will have her fairy-tale ending.
“Swimming is such a small part of life,” Schmitt said. “That’s why I love it. That’s why I’m so excited to be back swimming again and competing again. But at the end of the day, it is a sport, and it doesn’t matter if you get first or last. You’re still loved by the same people. You’re still who you are.”
As mentioned above, Katie Ledecky won the women’s 200m freestyle in 1:54.60, followed by Schmitt, then Gabby DeLoof in 1:56.55 and Olympian Leah Smith in 1:56.93.
Then in the men’s 200m free, Andrew Seliskar came out on top, edging Olympian Blake Pieroni, 1:45.70 to 1:45.93. Olympians Conor Dwyer and Townley Haas rounded out the top four in 1:46.08 and 1:46.15.
Micah Sumrall won the women’s 200m breast in 2:22.06, more than a second ahead of Bethany Galat, who touched in 2:23.22. Olympian Josh Prenot also turned in a decisive victory in the men’s 200m breast with a time of 2:07.28, more than a second ahead of Andrew Wilson, who touched in 2:08.71.
In the women’s 200m backstroke, Olympian Kathleen Baker and U.S. National Teamer Regan Smith tied for first in 2:06.43. The time was a World Junior record for the 16-year-old Smith.
Olympians Ryan Murphy and Jacob Pebley went 1-2 in the men’s 200m back in 1:54.15 and 1:55.68. It marked the third straight year the two Cal teammates have gone 1-2 in this event at Nationals.
Olympian Kelsi Dahlia tied her American record and broke the meet record in the women’s 50m butterfly in 25.48. Dahlia set the American record at last year’s FINA World Championships. Dara Torres set the meet record at 25.50 in 2009. U.S. National Teamer Michael Andrew set the meet record in the men’s 50 fly in 22.93. Olympian Caeleb Dressel set the former mark last year in 23.05.
The first place swimmers in each Olympic event, along with the top four swimmers in the 200m free, qualified for the 2018 U.S. Pan Pacific Championship Team, which will compete Aug. 9-12 in Tokyo. Second-place finishers will likely be added to the roster later this meet, pending swimmers qualifying in multiple events.