Don't overlook Allison Schmitt
LONDON -- This is just a suggestion, but President Barack Obama should get Allison Schmitt's number and call her, maybe.
Obama contacted Michael Phelps after the swimmer set the record for the most medals in an Olympic career Tuesday night. But, I'm sorry, 16 of those 19 medals came in previous Olympics. The top American swimmer in these Olympics so far has been his training partner. Schmitt has won four medals here, including two gold.
"She really has been a breakout swimmer in terms of the quality of her swims and the consistency," said Bob Bowman, who coaches both Schmitt and Phelps. "She's become much more fit in terms of body strength. She's really learned the mental game. That's what she's brought into here that she was missing in Shanghai at world championships. She's focused when she needs to be focused and relaxed when she needs to be relaxed. She knows how to use her energy through the swims from the preliminaries to the final."
Schmitt won the 200-meter freestyle Tuesday night in Olympic-record time and then led the American women to another gold in the 4x200 relay Wednesday with the sort of anchor leg that warrants, at minimum, a presidential tweet. (While Mitt Romney could at least like her performance on Facebook.) With the United States trailing Australia by half a second (about half a body length) entering the final leg, Schmitt buried Alicia Coutts, out-swimming her rival by more than two seconds for the gold.
"I knew it was close, neck and neck the whole race," Schmitt said. "I just wanted to swim my own race. I swam a great 200 last night, and I just wanted to keep up the energy and bring home the gold for the U.S."
Schmitt is swimming so powerfully, Bowman said, that when she dove into the pool trailing by half a second, he had no doubt she and the Americans would win.
Of course, the U.S. women have been a good bet in general these Olympics. With four gold medals and eight total, plus Rebecca Soni's world-record time in the 200 backstroke semifinal Wednesday, the American women are swimming even better than they usually do. That's due in part to the atmosphere created by Teri McKeever, who, oddly, is the first woman to coach a U.S. women's swim team. A woman coach. What a concept.
McKeever takes a different coaching approach, getting her women occasionally out of the pool and into yoga, Pilates and even hip-hop classes. The women -- and the men -- also famously shot a video of themselves dancing and lip-syncing to Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe."
"It's kind of awesome thinking that whenever I hear that song for the rest of my life, this meet is all I'm going to be thinking about," said Missy Franklin, who swam the first leg of the relay. "I think it shows how close we are as a team, and we love what we're doing and we're having a blast."
McKeever said the team bonding has been crucial for the women.
"It's huge. Because women are motivated by relationships and a feeling of belonging and helping each other," she said. "I'm not saying men aren't, but for women that's a primary motivator and intangible thing.
"I hope what I'm doing as a female coach is allowing them to be women. You can be a female, you can be competitive, you can care about your teammate, you can make silly videos, you can be dancing. And then there's a time to get down to business. And they're doing that. And it's awesome."
U.S. veteran Dana Vollmer seems to approve."She created a space for all of us so that we could overlap each other and learn each other's stories," said Vollmer, who also swam on the U.S. women's previous gold-medal relay team in 2004. "We've learned what motivates each other and make us nervous. Getting behind that block, we really tap into each other's energy and excitement. And we're just really bringing that into every race we go into."
Schmitt certainly did. Bowman said Schmitt and Phelps push each other mentally, and that they are like brother and sister. "They just tease each other all the time. He probably teases her more," he said.
No swimmer has received more attention than Phelps but Schmitt has been outshone by her teammates on the women's team as well. When Schmitt won the 200 free, a reporter told Bowman, one headline read, "Missy Franklin finishes fourth."
"That actually has helped in her development because she doesn't have the pressure and expectations," Bowman said, adding, "Now, she can't really play that game anymore."