ATHENS, Ga. — Allison Schmitt’s days of anonymously wandering Georgia’s campus like any other student ended as soon as she climbed the London medal stand not once, but five times.
Schmitt has returned to Athens from London as the most decorated Olympic swimmer in Georgia history. But she’s no longer just another college kid standing at the bus stop because that backpack she’s carrying might contain a gold medal or two or maybe even three.
“Since the day I stopped swimming, I’ve explored London, I’ve been to Michigan. I’ve been here (Athens), no matter where I go, I get recognized,” Schmitt, a senior from Canton, Mich., said Wednesday when she met with reporters at Georgia’s Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall. “It’s definitely weird. I’m definitely still not used to being recognized. I think it’s kind of cool. I’ve always wanted to be kind of famous. I know I’m not quite there yet, so it’s kind of cool when people recognize you right now. I’m going to make sure I take it all in because I know it won’t last very long.”
Schmitt brought home five medals, including three gold, from the London swimming competition, which was tied for the second-highest haul by an American behind her training partner Michael Phelps, who earned six. Less than a month after multiple trips to the podium, Schmitt has needed to adjust to the notoriety that comes after your face has been on world-wide television for almost a solid week during the Olympics.
“Even today somebody stopped me when I was walking to the bus and asked, ‘Are you Allison Schmitt?’” Schmitt said. “I was like, ‘Yep, that’s me.’ Then somebody came up to me after a class and asked for a picture. It’s kind of weird when people ask me if I’m Allison Schmitt because I don’t really realize that they might have watched the Olympics this summer. It’s kind of cool. It’s different. It’s something I never thought would happen but I’ll take it.”
Schmitt was accompanied Wednesday by Georgia teammate Shannon Vreeland and Bulldogs coach Jack Bauerle. Schmitt and Vreeland swam the final two legs on the United States’ 4x100-meter freestyle relay team that won a gold medal and set an Olympic record. Georgia’s swimming and diving program sent 14 past, present and future athletes to London.
“I’m extremely proud of what they did for the USA and I’m extremely proud of what they did for Georgia,” Bauerle said. “I think their lives have changed a little bit forever. They’ve certainly had a little different experience on campus since they’ve been back. ... It was a very big point of pride for us to have the back half of that 800-meter freestyle relay. I feel pretty good about our own relay here at Georgia with these two sitting here. I think we’ll be alright.”
Schmitt came to Georgia as a freshman after making the Beijing 2008 Olympic team that Bauerle coached. She picked up a bronze medal in the Beijing 800 freestyle relay.
Schmitt would have been a senior at Georgia last spring but took the season off from collegiate swimming to train with Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman, in Baltimore, Md. for an Olympic run. It paid off with an individual gold in the 200 freestyle plus a gold in the 800 freestyle relay with Vreeland. Schmitt and as a member of the 400 medley relay. Schmitt also had an individual silver in the 400 freestyle and a bronze in the 400 freestyle relay.
“I just wanted to concentrate without school and without the distractions of class and the schedule,” Schmitt said. “I knew that I had to focus solely on swimming. Going to Baltimore gave me the opportunity to travel to different places while the college team was at dual meets and at SECs and NCAAs. It was a tough decision. But it was a lot easier knowing that I could come back for my final year and that I wasn’t just peacing out.”
Schmitt capped her Olympic experience on the last night of racing when she swam the anchor leg on the American 400 medley relay team that won gold and set a world record. Schmitt was a surprise inclusion on a team that had three other gold medalists and world-record holders in their specialty strokes — Rebecca Soni (breaststroke), Missy Franklin (backstroke) and Dana Vollmer (butterfly).
“In the ready room, before we went out, I looked at the other three girls and said, ‘I’m so excited to be here,’” Schmitt said. “It was a lot of fun to be on that relay and I was honored to be selected for the anchor leg. ... I looked around and said, ‘All three of you guys already have world records.’ I didn’t want to mess it up for them.”
Schmitt became the first Georgia swimmer to win an individual gold medal when she won the 200 freestyle and is just the third Georgia athlete in any sport to earn a gold medal, joining track and field standouts Spec Towns and Gwen Torrence. Maybe Schmitt’s biggest thrill came when she stood at the top of the medal stand with her Georgia teammate Vreeland at her side after the 800 relay victory.
“I stood right next to Shannon and I think I squeezed her hand so hard that I’m surprised it’s still on,” Schmitt said. “It was really funny. Even walking out, I was still very giddy. All I wanted to do was shout ‘Yay’ and I probably did. Hearing the national anthem and seeing the flag go up is an experience I’ll never forget. ... It’s a lot more fun with teammates. You’re not as lonely and you don’t feel so awkward up there.”