Smoliga still setting records and dropping times
As she has all along, Olivia Smoliga made a splash.
The Olympic gold medalist out of Glenbrook South High School set an American women's record Oct. 16 in the 50-meter backstroke in her first swim of the International Swimming League season, at the Duna Arena in Budapest, Hungary.
In her first competition since USA Swimming's Pro Swim Series this past February, Smoliga swam those 50 meters in 25.74 seconds.
She's a powerful woman, her technique is great, and it didn't come out of nowhere considering she also holds the American women's 100-meter record at 55.47.
There was something else in an "emotionally driven" performance, she said.
"It's like fresh out of the gates," Smoliga said in a Zoom interview from the ISL Budapest bubble. "Like in horse racing, open up the gates. That's how it felt."
Attuned to training on the basis of yards in America, Smoliga was unaware she'd set a record. Meters are the standard in international events such as the ISL or the Olympics, whose 2020 running in Japan obviously was tabled until next year. That still remains tentative.
"I would hope that seeing that an athletic event like this -- and obviously the (National Basketball Association) bubble and stuff like that -- seems to be working is what I would hope would be like a blueprint, I guess, for what (the Olympics) would look like," Smoliga said. She's counting on heading to Omaha, Nebraska, for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials next June.
"I'm also very optimistic in thinking that it's eight months away. I'm very optimistic about it. Last I heard they're working very hard to make it happen," said the 26-year-old.
That's why Smoliga herself is working so hard to make it happen with the Cali Condors on the ISL circuit in Hungary.
Swimming World Magazine's 2013 female high school swimmer of the year, she set Illinois High School Association records in the 50-yard freestyle (21.99 seconds) and the 100 back (51.43) her senior season in 2012, on top of her 2011 record in the 100 free (48.88). At Georgia, she set more school records and an NCAA title.
At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Smoliga placed sixth in the 100-meter backstroke, and earned a gold medal in the 4-by-100 medley relay. She swam in the preliminaries, helping the Americans record a faster time than Australia, the eventual runner-up, and swam in the finals.
It's the friendly Smoliga's second time competing in the 2-year-old ISL, whose 10 teams include four American units, plus squads from Paris, London, Tokyo, Rome, Toronto and the home Budapest Iron. Each team competes in four matches before the top eight teams move to the semifinals Nov. 14-16 and a final four advance to the finals Nov. 21-22. Live coverage is provided by CBS, CBS Sports Network or CBS Digital.
More than 300 swimmers from 40 countries are in the Budapest bubble.
"It's pretty much everyone who will be competing in Tokyo next year," said Jerry Milani, the ISL's public relations consultant for the United States.
An eight-time USA National Team swimmer, after three matches Smoliga ranked fifth individually on the ISL's points system; the Condors, headed by Caeleb Dressel and Lilly King, led the team race. Eventually, $6 million will be awarded based on merited points.
Smoliga has been in Budapest since Oct. 13. Though the early excitement has tapered a bit, the team component has kicked in.
"This third week, you kind of feel the bubble so to speak, right now," she said. "It's fun because I feel like a swimmer's life in general is pretty routine, and so I'm used to the routine. But I think we're just really ready, just itching to get to the semis and go into the finals -- so that first-meet emotion can be back again."
Smoliga will be back home again one day later, flying in on Nov. 23. She hasn't been in Glenview since the spring, and hasn't visited Glenbrook South since around Christmas.
She remembered her "incredible" high school coaches, Kelly Timson and Steve Iida, and plans on a few hard training swims with Iida as Smoliga usually does when she's in town.
"I'm a true believer in that the way you were raised in the sport makes you the athlete that you are now," Smoliga said.
"You go to college, you just fine-tune some things, professionally you just fine-tune some things. So I had a really, really lucky selection with those two coaches, and they're the best. And I love Glenview, too. I'm going there for Thanksgiving, so I can't wait to see my family and train a little bit, too."