Athlete Profile: Olivia Smoliga Talks Olympics, mindset, and what's next
By Colette House
For Olivia Smoliga the summer of 2016 was the summer of dreams comes true. In August, Smoliga represented the United States at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the Women’s 100m backstroke where she placed sixth overall.
Representing Team USA didn’t happen overnight for Smoliga, who is finishing her senior year as member of the Georgia Bulldogs swim team at the University of Georgia. Smoliga began taking swimming seriously in high school and nearly qualified for the London Olympics in 2012. Although she says it was heartbreaking to miss qualifying for London by two spots, looking back Smoliga is happy everything worked out as it did.
“I’m glad for the way it worked out because coming into college I truly understood what it meant to work hard,” says Smoliga. “When I came in 2016 I was stronger than ever I was, in the best shape I’ve ever been in, and I was calm because I just put in so much hard work....so if I don’t make the team I did everything that I possibly could have done.”
So how did Smoliga go from swimming on her local team, to helping the Georgia Bulldogs swim team win the NCAA national title in March 2016 to representing the United States at the Olympics? GOLD has the inside scoop.
GOLD: What was finding out you made the Olympic Team like?
OS: It’s the coolest thing ever to fulfill this dream that you’ve had just for your entire life. I remember swimming next to Kathleen Baker who also made the team and looking at her and I was like, oh my god can you believe it, over and over and over again. It’s cool to have someone like her be my teammate now because when we both made it we were in shock, two rookies making the team.
GOLD: Was there a moment when you knew swimming was more than a hobby and you wanted to take your swimming to the next level?
OS: Sophomore year of high school was kind of like the turning point for me. I went to short course winter nationals and I swam the hundred backstroke there and I got third. That was the first time that I actually got up on a podium on a national stage. It was the coolest thing because I was able to be with these big name swimmers and compete at their level.
GOLD: Coming into your sophomore year of college you were the defending champ of the NCAA 50-yard freestyle event and well ranked internationally, but you struggled that season. What did you learn about managing the expectations of yourself and others?
OS: I came in with pretty high expectations to do well. Every single dual meet that I had leading up to championship season I didn’t perform the way that I wanted to. I think I was pretty hard on myself because as female athletes I feel like we’re kind of hard on ourselves because everything has to be perfect. You want everything to be perfect. And it just wasn’t for me my sophomore year. Coming from winning my freshman year the 50 free I got eighth my sophomore year in the 50 free. That’s essentially going from winning to losing because there are eight lanes. I got really frustrated at practice snappy with my coach. I didn’t really want to do the practices he had for me because I just wasn’t doing well in them. I was beating myself up whenever I struggled and was like, this is never gonna get better, I should be so much better.
GOLD: Your junior was much more successful. How did you turn things around?
OS: I just had to kind of find it within myself. You have to think about when you were happiest, what were you doing when you were happy in the sport why did you start to do it in the first place. What I was doing when I was most happy was just being happy with myself, my body image especially. Where I was most happy was just not having such high expectations and treating myself like a normal person. Rather than being so hard on myself it just put my mind at ease to do something a little bit everyday to get better and it worked my junior year. My junior year was so successful and I was so happy how I did there.
GOLD: What are your plans after the Olympics?
OS: I’ll being going back to Georgia for one more year. I’ll be able to come back and be a senior on my team and hopefully become a captain. I think that’s one of my biggest goals. I would love to be a captain on my team and be a motivator and leader for the girls coming in. My biggest goal is just to finish off strong as a Georgia Bulldog.
Facts & Favs:
Age: 21 Hometown: Glenview, Il Birthday: October 12, 1994
Favorite Song: "King of Everything" by Wiz Khalifa
Favorite Food: dessert/dark chocolate
Favorite Hobby: Cooking
Favorite way to unwind: Epsom salt bath