ATHENS -- There were a lot of smiles, a lot of laughs and a couple of big chunks of gold being shared Wednesday at the University of Georgia.
Allison Schmitt and Shannon Vreeland — two of 14 UGA swimmers past, present and future represented at the 2012 Olympic Games — came to the Bulldogs’ football complex on Wednesday to talk about their experiences in London and show off their gold medals. Schmitt, a senior, won three gold medals, a silver and a bronze and Vreeland, a junior, won one gold during the games.
Both athletes returned to Georgia for fall semester to resume for their college careers. Needless to say, Jack Bauerle’s Bulldogs ought to be pretty decent in the pool this year.
“I feel pretty good about our relays,” Bauerle said with a sly grin. “I think we’ll be all right.”
“We’re proud of these two young ladies obviously,” Bauerle continued. “We had a strong contingent in London, but there was certainly a lot of focus on these two young ladies for what they did. We’re proud of what they did for Team USA and we’re proud of what they did for Georgia. And I think their lives have changed a little bit forever.”
That’s an understatement. Schmitt spent her previous three years on UGA’s campus in relative anonymity. But not after NBC captured her incredible athleticism and effervescent personality in dozens of hours of prime-time Olympic coverage.
“Even today somebody stopped me as I was walking to the bus and asked me, ‘Are you Allison Schmitt?’” said Schmitt, who rarely says anything without an accompanying giggle. “I was like, ‘yeah, that’s me.’ And somebody came up to me in class and asked for a picture. So it’s kind of weird when people recognize me because I didn’t realize how many people watched the Olympics. It’s kind of cool.”
Vreeland attracted attention in London for being a relative bit player on the powerful U.S. team who got tabbed at the last minute to swim the third leg of the 4×200-meter freestyle. All they did was set an Olympic record.
“I was on the bus the other day and somebody asked me, ‘would it be creepy just to congratulate you?’” said Vreeland, who is from Overland Park, Kan. “I’m like, ‘no, that’s totally fine.’ I really appreciate it. I think it’s really cool that so many people watched the Olympics and that they’d take the time say congratulations on the bus. It means a lot.”
Bauerle, who has directed Georgia to four NCAA title and is a five-time NCAA Coach of the Year, was beaming sitting next to his two stars. It’s somewhat unusual for gold medalists to return to college when so many outside opportunities come available after a successful Olympics.
But both women said they never considered not returning to Georgia.
“Hey, we have some of the fastest swimmers in the world right here,” said Schmitt, only the second UGA student to return to school with an individual gold medal. “I love swimming for whatever is on my cap and I’m honored to come back to Georgia for my last year and swim with the ‘G’ on my cap. I’m excited to get back in the water with this team. I think we have great things ahead for us and I’m proud to be a Bulldog.”