|Allison Schmitt attends the 2012 Golden Goggle awards at the
Marriott Marquis Times Square on Nov. 19, 2012 in New York City.
Allison Schmitt doesn’t have to worry about finding a job when she graduates from the University of Georgia at the end of the year. The six-time Olympic medalist swimmer should be a professional swimmer by the time she enters her final semester in Athens this fall.
In fact, Schmitt, who won five medals, including three gold, in the London 2012 Olympic Games, maintained her amateur status after the Games so she could return to school and attempt to win her first NCAA team championship, which she accomplished in March.
Now she says she’ll turn pro sometime before the 15th FINA World Championships July 19-Aug. 4 in Barcelona.
“I’m doing research now, looking at that now, by worlds and the World Championship trials I’ll be officially pro,” Schmitt said.
Waiting to turn pro couldn’t have worked out better for the University of Georgia’s most decorated swimmer.
“It was definitely the cherry on top of everything,” she said during a telephone interview between races Saturday morning at the Arena Grand Prix at Charlotte. “I knew after redshirting a year, I was coming back for my fourth year, and just winning it was a lot of fun. It was a lot easier getting back in the water [after the Games] having a team supporting you.”
Aside from winning the NCAA 200-yard freestyle and helping the 400- and 800-yard freestyle relays win titles, the NCAA championships were also special because the Lady Bulldogs beat the University of California, a team that won three of the previous four titles while Georgia finished second in each of those years.
“We’ve been behind them for a few years,” Schmitt said. “Getting that is definitely exciting.”
Schmitt jumped back in the pool for the first for a major meet since NCAAs at the Charlotte Grand Prix, May 9-12. Schmitt won the 200-meter freestyle in 1:58.76 but wasn’t entirely pleased with her performance. Her personal-best time in the event is 1:53.61, an American record which she set in London. She will compete next at the Santa Clara Grand Prix, May 30-June 2, where she is scheduled to race the 100-, 200- and 400-meter freestyle races, as well as the 100 butterfly.
The Canton, Mich., native said the Charlotte meet was a good litmus test going into a few weeks of hard training in Colorado.
“It was a lot better (performance) than I had in 2009 and 2010 and 2011, so it’s a good starting point going into Colorado but it could be better,” she said. “But I definitely have seen worse at this point, so it’s a good sign right now.”
Aside from gearing up for the world championships, Schmitt is also up for the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year Award as part of the 2013 Honda Cup. She was nominated by virtue of winning the Honda Sports Award for swimming in April. She will travel to Los Angeles June 24 for the award ceremony.
Schmitt follows in the footsteps of former UGA swimmers Mary DeScenza and Kara Lynn Joyce, who won the Honda Sports Award for swimming in 2006 and 2007 respectively.
“That was definitely a surprise,” Schmitt, who became the first UGA swimmer to win an individual Olympic gold medal by winning the 200-meter freestyle in London, said of the Honda award. “I am honored to repeat that award, especially after Kara and Mary. Bringing it back to Georgia was definitely an honor. Being named with the top athletes and chosen as an award winner is a great way to end my college career.”
Even though she is clearly established in the pool, Schmitt is still a novice when it comes to navigating the transition to becoming a pro swimmer. But while most college seniors turn to their parents or professors for career advice, Schmitt can also bounce ideas off friend and former training partner Michael Phelps.
In fact much of her success can be attributed to training with Phelps and coach Bob Bowman in her native Michigan as well as in Phelps’ hometown, Baltimore, where she will return after graduation to train full time.
“I’m lucky to have all of them,” she said, referring not only to Phelps and Bowman but other U.S. teammates that have already turned pro. “They have the experience and have done it all for many years. I’m lucky to be able to ask them for advice and help. Ultimately it comes down to what I feel comfortable doing.
“I’m excited about it. I love the sport, I love competing. I don’t necessarily think about the money. I love the sport and I love competing.”
In addition to winning the 200 in London, Schmitt also was part of the 4 x 200 free relay and the 4 x 100 medley relay that won gold. The women’s 4 x 100 medley, which featured Schmitt, Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni and Dana Vollmer, set a world record of 3:52.05. Schmitt also claimed a silver medal in the 400 and a bronze medal in the 400 free relay. In addition, Schmitt earned a bronze relay medal in Beijing in 2008.
Schmitt, who declined to share her goals for worlds let alone her goals for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, also said that Phelps has helped prepare her and her teammates for swimming in the limelight now that they are officially in the post-Phelps era. Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, retired after the London Games.
But while watching how he handled all the pressure was the biggest advantage passed down to them, another plus is that social media helped them raise their own profiles during the London Games.
“I think we’re ready for it and I think we’ve been doing a great job in the past few years and even this past Olympics,” Schmitt said. “Most of the guys and girls on the team, we’re going to miss (Phelps) a lot, but like I said, we’re very grateful for everything he’s done for the sport.
“I think it’s great that he brought fans to the sport.”