Olivia Smoliga Talks 2016 Olympic Experience, Winning Gold Medal, More in B/R AMA

Tyler Conway@@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist IVMay 25, 2021

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - MARCH 06: Olivia Smoliga talks with Regan Smith after competing in the Women's 100 Meter Backstroke Final on Day Four of the TYR Pro Swim Series at San Antonio on March 06, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Olivia Smoliga won her first Olympic gold medal in 2016 as part of the 4x100-meter relay team, but she's far from satisfied.

The 24-year-old will enter the 2021 Summer Games as a contender to earn her first individual medal. As part of her preparations for what lies ahead, Smoliga made an appearance on the B/R app for a live Q&A session Tuesday. 

The following is the full transcript from the AMA session.

@dad Do you remember your first swim lesson?

Yes I do. I was at just this public pool swim park situation and I remember trying to lift my head up, blow bubbles out with my hand in front. In the same time I was swimming I was learning how to do diving. Eventually stuck with swimming.

Definite learning curve. When I started swimming I didn’t really like it because I kept getting ear infections. When I watched the 2004 Olympics it attracted me to the sport so much

@ma3thew20 At what point did you realize you were a really good swimmer, capable of going up against the best?

It grows every day. But I went to my first Olympic trials to compete in 2012, I was 17 and they take top 2 in Olympic trials in each event. After the semifinals, I was third going into finals. I was like, I’m in it… so crazy.. I was one spot away from making the Olympic team. I ended up getting fourth overall in that final and that was cool… It’s an everyday thing to really believe in your capabilities.

@fitchkarma66 What motivates you to swim?

Seeing how I can push myself, how far I can push myself every day. Not only in a meet but in training then putting it all together and mentally gassing yourself up every day… how far can you stretch your mind and body. You train all these years for less than a minute of competition, so it’s pretty crazy but I love it.

@Antonio16rossi What’s bigger for you: the thrill of winning or fear of losing?

Thrill of winning definitely. You have to really try your hardest to take out the fear of anything when you try to accomplish what you set out to do. 

@DekeGeek Is there any feeling like winning a gold medal?

Totally different feelings that you feel in your life. That is apart of your life that I appreciate so much It’s really incomparable because of all the great feelings I have felt. It’s a great feeling. It’s one part of my life that I’m grateful for.

@striplingwarrior Do you ever talk to other athletes on the podium and what do you say to them if so? 

Yeah we do. At that point the race is over and when you're able to be on the podium, the national anthem of your country plays when you win, but the other two flags also rise up. It’s great representation for all three parties. Swimmers are the best. You get to know not only people from USA, but from other countries as you travel more. We’ll joke around about what we’ll see in the stands, bur all of my competitors are super cool. We chat all the time.

@just_in_time Do you have any memorable stories or experiences with other pro athletes that you ran into during the Olympics?

I’ve been starstruck a couple of times. In 2016, team USA shares the same building with all USA athletes. We’re with the gymnasts… I’m 6’2’, and we're walking from the dining hall into the building and coming out of the building is the Fab Five -- Simone Biles, you got all your girls. The presence they held was just power. They walked in a pack and it was so sick to see. They had so much power and they just walked past me. During Michael Phelps’ 200 Fly, we were in the stands cheering and the NBA guys came to watch. I was pretty starstruck because all these guys were just chilling, watching, cheering on.

@Dana_Grey What does your diet look like on training days?

Nothing specifically, when I’m hungry, I eat. I make sure I’m full for practice. You have to make sure you’re fueled all the time. We really eat a lot. 

@BR_NHL What does an average training day look like for you? How many hours do you spend in the pool? 

Doubles days it’s 3.5 hours. On singles days it’s 2. So average 2.5 daily.

@SMXC What goes through your head before a big event?

At that point I feel like I’m pretty zoned in. You have practice meets throughout the year. You just get to train your mind to be primed in the moment when you’re about to race. It’s pretty standard. You ride over in a bus, have your music on, get to the team area, put on your racing suit. It really is affirmation after affirmation. You’re ready to go after that point. You live off the atmosphere around you, get ready and just go.

@jacksonhuff How do you overcome adversity after a rough championship meet?

It’s tough. I will think back to even in 2012, missing the Olympic team at the time was heartbreaking. The following year I missed the national team, then the following year I got silver. So many ups and down throughout the sport and finally you get a little bit of light after going through those failures. Failures can be taken in stride if you choose to learn from them. You're only gonna be where you want to be if you change what you’re doing at the time. It’s an everyday thing and it’s a delayed gratification especially for Olympic athletes because we work those 3+ years for one moment. We do have major competitions yearly, but something to learn from all the time. If you keep pushing, you’ll see the light. It’s not always gonna be good. At this point in my career you’re always going to want better and find ways to get better and better yourself, better yourself through the sport. It’s a learning thing I think.

@belacsmoon What race has been most important to you and why?

There’s like a handful that they have this thing that it’s kind of unexplainable. It’s so natural. Your mind, your soul, your body is aligned in the moment. It’s so great because at that point your self belief is the highest, your motivation is the highest. Nothing else is on your mind and I feel like when an athlete is able to embody that all the time, that’s like the skill, so I hold onto those and continue to build off of that feeling. But equally important are the missed steps as well. 

@zlehrbaum What was your favorite unique experience during the pandemic if any?

When I’m able to spend time with my family at home in Illinois. It’s a very grounding experience when you’re able to be home. I was able to spend time with my brother… we jogged, lifted together. I did less swimming in the volume so was able to lift a lot heavier. This is what’s cool to me… I was able to max out my weight, surpassing what I had done in season and to gain that strength and and use it as a base when pools starting opening back up again, but spending time with my family has been the best. 

@allrise99 What advice do you have for high school swimmers?

I would say one of the biggest things that I’ve learned is to eliminate as many distractions as possible with self discipline. It’s tough in high school, so much stimulation is in your mind, but I think if youre really able to focus on the goal and what you know you have to do. It’s not the easy way to say no to things.. Prioritizing yourself above all so you can achieve what you want to achieve. Being disciplined might be the lame thing, but in the end its the main thing.

Rapid Fire:

Your favorite aquatic animal


Favorite movie 

Soul, Mr. & Mrs. Smith

The next place you want to travel


Favorite holiday


The first Disney movie that comes to your mind is _____

Aladdin, Jungle Book, Soul

The piece of advice you would give your younger self

Keep going. It’s all going to work out. Keep working hard and keep believing in yourself