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After Free Fall, Allison Schmitt Is Racing Back To Top

By Karen Rosen | May 17, 2014, 10:42 p.m. (ET)

Allison Schmitt is introduced during the Arena Grand Prix at the Skyline Aquatic Center on April 24, 2014 in Mesa, Arizona.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Three-time Olympic gold medalist Allison Schmitt has a modest goal for this summer.

“Definitely to get back on the national team,” she said.

Schmitt, who won the 400-meter freestyle Saturday night at the Arena Grand Prix at Charlotte, is regaining her Olympic form after her 2013 season ended abruptly. The freestyle specialist had a miserable national championships, failing to make the 2013 world championship team, then took a few months off.

Schmitt graduated from the University of Georgia last winter and rejoined coach Bob Bowman in Baltimore in January. 

She clocked 4 minutes, 8.65 seconds in the 400, defeating North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammate Gillian Ryan whose time was 4:09.10. 

“I haven’t really had too good of a 400 since London,” Schmitt said, “so it’s good to get back in there and race, and I was happy to be under 4:10.”

On Friday night, Schmitt placed second in the 200 free behind Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu, 1:56.30 to 1:56.41.

“It’s great seeing the national team friends that I have here and seeing everyone swimming fast,” Schmitt said. “I just like to compete and I’m excited to see where the summer takes me.”

Schmitt has a busy summer ahead. At stake at the 2014 Phillips 66 National Championships Aug. 6-10 in Irvine, California, are slots in the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Australia (also in August) and the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia.

Everyone expected the summer of 2013 to take Schmitt to Barcelona for worlds. After all, she was coming off an Olympic performance in which she won gold medals in the 200 freestyle, 800 free relay and 400 medley relay, as well as silver in the 400 free and bronze in the 400 free relay.

However, Schmitt placed 10th in the 100 freestyle, which was not even good enough for the relay pool. She then finished a surprising ninth in the 200, an event in which she was top-seeded. After swimming gamely through the consolation final, she scratched from the 400.

But the swimmer known as “Schmitty” kept her ever-present smile on her face.

“It’s hard to smile after a disappointment,” said Schmitt, 23, “but there’s nothing you can do and I knew that I would learn from it. So I was still smiling after it, cheering on my teammates. I stayed for the rest of the meet and cheered them on. It was exciting.”

The experience also was motivating.

“It was a tough year, but I think I learned a lot from it,” she said. “I’m happy with where I am right now, training hard, motivated and getting my goals refocused.

“I think every career has a downfall and mine just happened to be highlighted after 2012, having a successful summer. So it’s disappointing, but it happens to everyone and you move on from it, you learn from it and hopefully it doesn’t happen again.”

Schmitt said she also has “a different perspective on where I am and where I want to be, and I think that helped a lot. It showed me that I have to be on point all the time.”

Bowman said Schmitt is training well. “I’m very happy with her effort,” he said. “She just needs to get in better shape. She didn’t get to us ‘til January, took basically a year off, so has a lot of work to do.”

Schmitt, who also earned an Olympic bronze medal in 2008 in the 800 free relay, trains with an elite team that includes Michael Phelps.

“The first day I got in, I looked around and I was like, ‘Wow, I feel like I’m in Olympic camp right now.’” she said. “You definitely always have someone to race. It’s a very easygoing group. We always have a lot of fun, but at the same time we know how to work hard and race each other and push each other.”

Schmitt provides some of the comic relief on the pool deck. 

“You have Allison, who is telling her jokes every day and always has a little funny comment here and there that gets everybody to laugh,” Phelps said.

Schmitt said she started cracking jokes when she was the youngest member of the training group at Club Wolverine in Michigan. 

“I was the little naïve one that had to come in with a joke every day,” she said, “so I had those 3-year-old jokes. Every once in a while when I hear a good joke, I’ll repeat it. I don’t think I deliver it too well, but I try to.”

She’s more keen on delivering in the pool in the run-up to the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.

“I’m just having fun with it,” Schmitt said. “If medals come along with it, that’s great and that’s what I’m aiming for.”

Karen Rosen is an Atlanta-based sportswriter who has covered 14 Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.

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Allison Schmitt