In less than a five-month span, Olivia Smoliga went from the "Pool of Tears" to pumping her fists amidst a standing ovation following two national record-breaking performances.
In between, the Glenbrook South senior had to rebuild herself following a crushing performance at the Olympic time trials, readjust to competing against inferior competition and set aside personal aspirations for team goals.
"I was pretty confident in myself going into the summer," Smoliga said. "The Olympic trials is even more nerve-racking than the Olympic Games. I had been swimming for that moment for a long time. I put everything I had into the trials."
Entering the trials in Omaha, Neb., in late June, Smoliga had hoped to qualify for 2012 Olympic Games in London in her then-best event, the 100-meter backstroke. But she finished fourth in the finals (1:00.46), behind three-time Olympic gold medalist Natalie Coughlin and Missy Franklin, who won four golds and a bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games.
Smoliga, the Tribune/WGN-Ch. 9 Preps Plus Athlete of the Month for November, immediately retreated to an area that's become infamous among Olympic competitors.
"Olivia came so close to making the Olympics, she just hung her head and went to the warm-down pool known as the 'Pool of Tears,'" said Steve Ida, Smoliga's Glenview Titan Aquatic Club swim coach. "She just sobbed in the water. A lot of world-class athletes do it."
Still feeling the effects of missing the cut in her best event, Smoliga finished 48th in the 100-meter freestyle prelims and ended her first Olympic trials with a personal-best 25.66 in the 50 free, good for 23rd overall. The disappointment of falling short of her goal of competing in London initially devastated her.
"When I didn't make it I was so mentally drained that I took a week off from swimming," she said. "I was mad, crying and it was a hard time. I never take time off. But I needed to cool off and be with friends and family."
Smoliga recalibrated her expectations and goals. Instead of personal aspirations and dreams of Olympic glory, she made the high school season her focal point.
"I think Olivia grew so much from the Olympic experience," her Glenbrook South teammate, Katie Iida, said. "She snapped out of it and went into this season motivated to help her team. She jumped into the deep end and was all about high school."
From disappointment in Omaha to elation in Evanston, Smoliga's journey at last month's girls state swimming and diving finals at Evanston High School. She set national records in the 50-yard freestyle (21.99) and 100-yard backstroke (51.43), and helped Glenbrook South establish state records in the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays.
The Georgia-bound Smoliga capped her comeback by leading the Titans to a fourth-place team finish.
Smoliga, who will make her first foray into international competition this weekend in Istanbul, Turkey, called the last five months a learning experience.
"Last summer was hard on me, but I realized that it was just the beginning," she said. "I've got an entire chapter of my life about to start with college, then the 2016 Olympic trials. The summer built a fire in me. I hope to follow in Missy Franklin's footsteps."
Olivia Smoliga file
High school: Glenbrook South.
November numbers: Broke the national records in the 50-yard freestyle (21.99) and the 100-yard backstroke (51.43) at the girls state swimming and diving finals at Evanston High School. Swam a leg in Glenbrook South's winning and state record-setting 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays.
FYI: Smoliga is considered the DJ of the Glenbrook South swimming team, often making the music for her teammates to listen to before meets.
She said it: "Olivia is a once-in-a-lifetime swimmer. She's not only my best swimmer, but also the most coachable." — Glenbrook South swimming coach Kelly Timson.
Glenbrook South's Olivia Smoliga will be featured during a segment on WGN-Ch. 9's "Instant Replay" at 9:40 p.m. Sunday. If you miss it, watch the video Monday at prepsplus.com.
2012-13 Athletes of the Month
September: Justin Jackson, Glenbard North, football
October: Chris James, Notre Dame, football
November: Olivia Smoliga, Glenbrook South, swimmingCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun