Schmitt moves into spotlight

Bob Bowman was done, or so he thought. Something of the Michael Phelps Whisperer to the media, he can be counted on for insights, such as on Tuesday night after the Baltimore swimmer became the most decorated Olympian ever after winning a gold medal as anchor of the 4x200-meter freestyle relay team.

Bowman delivered. Often emotionally, sometimes sardonically, he offered wisdom on the eventful night and then took off.

But he came back. Oh wait, he said, almost forgetting about his other talking point, Allison Schmitt, gold-medal winner and Olympic record-breaker.

Schmitt is the swimmer who hides in plain sight, with accomplishments that are so much higher than her profile. After Wednesday, the latter may catch up with the former: Schmitt won her second gold as anchor of the 4x200-meter freestyle relay, setting a new Olympic record.

"I just wanted to bring it home for them," Schmitt said, sitting with her three teammates at a giggly news conference after the relay.

"Schmitty," as all the swimmers, on the U.S. and competing teams call her, is known for her infectious laughter and love of dancing. The relay members stayed loose before the race, they said, dancing to Rihanna.

But once in the water, Schmitt is fearsome.

"Obviously we wanted to get a big a lead as possible with Schmitty diving into the water," said Bronte Barratt, a swimmer with the Australian team that was ahead until Schmitt steadily pulled closer and closer until she made it to the wall first by 1.49 seconds. "Allison is an amazing swimmer. We couldn't hold on."

Schmitt, the middle of five siblings from Canton, Mich., first began training as a high school student with Phelps and Bowman, when the duo had moved to the University of Michigan, where Bowman took over as head coach. Schmitt followed them when they returned to Baltimore in 2008.

At first, she trained with them only in the summers between college at the University of Georgia, but decided to red-shirt this past year to prepare full-time for these Games.

It paid off: Schmitt first won bronze as part of the 4x100 free relay, then silver for an individual effort in the 400 free and then gold in the 200 free — in which she set a new Olympic record of 1 minute 53.61 — and the 4x200 relay.

She loves relays, and the entire team experience. "This is the most bonded team I've been on," said Dana Vollmer, who swam on the 4x200 relay unit. And indeed, their Twitter accounts are filled with pictures of them painting each other's nails — apparently a tradition for meets — and mugging for the cameras, most famously in a YouTube video that's been making the rounds of the U.S. swim team, men and women, dancing and lip-syncing to the summer earworm, "Call Me Maybe."

Schmitt, who will return to Georgia for her final year of college, said the team aspect of swimming, whether in college or at the Olympics, is what she most cherishes.

Women's Olympic coach Teri McKeever says it shows in the team's success, especially among the women.

"Women are motivated by relationships," she said, "a sense of belonging."

Schmitt also found that at North Baltimore Aquatic Club, where she is part of a high-performance group coached by Bowman. Schmitt is something of a little sister in the group, always being teased by Phelps, the coach said.

But, there have been benefits for everyone: Phelps, who was burning out on his own intensity, especially after his record-breaking Games in Beijing, credits Schmitt with making practice fun and something to look forward to rather than dreaded.

Schmitt says Phelps has taught her how to focus her energy into her races, swimming smarter by saving fuel for the final legs. Bowman agrees, saying that has been the difference between someone who won one medal in Beijing, as part of a relay, to four in London.

"She's really learned the mental game," Bowman said. "She's focused when she needs to be focused. She's relaxed when she needs to be relaxed."

After these Olympics, the old gang is breaking up, at least temporarily for some of them. Schmitt will finish school. Phelps is retiring from competition. His one-time roommate and training partner, Chris Brady, retired after not making the Olympic team. Bowman is taking a year off coaching.

But, Bowman said, he thinks some swimmers, Schmitt included, will eventually regroup. "But not the big guy," he said, continuing to quash any possible rumors that Phelps would return.

If you want to make the ever-smiling Schmitt turn serious, bring up Phelps and his exit from the sport he elevated. That he became the most decorated Olympian here, and she goes home with four medals, is an experience that makes her emotional.

"You're going to make me tear up," Schmitt said when the subject of sharing these Games together comes up. "Being able to see him after the race, I give him a hug every time. He makes me tear up every time I hug him. It's unbelievable to see how well he's doing, especially coming back after such a fantastic Olympics four years ago. He is the most-decorated Olympian, I couldn't be happier to be his teammate and his friend."

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