Olympian Focuses on the Here and Now

David Gonzales/Stanford Athletics

Most of the time, swimmer Julia Smit is looking only as far ahead as the next Stanford meet. Ask her about goals and she might acknowledge thinking about big events that are looming, such as the world championships this summer in Rome.

Beyond that? “Three-and-a-half years is kind of a long way away,” says Smit, when questioned about the biggest event of all. But there’s really no splashing around the subject: the 2012 Summer Olympics in London are beginning to enter into her plans.

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VIDEO: Swimmer Julia Smit, '10, recalls a behind-the-scenes moment with her relay team at the Beijing Olympics.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll still be swimming by then,” says Smit, a junior. “I feel like it’s more likely that I would swim than not.”

It’s hard to separate Smit’s athletic identity from Stanford, given what her
individual exploits have meant to the team during an exceptional season. In late January, for example, when the squad pushed its 2008-09 record to 17-0—and registered its 16th straight Pac-10 dual-meet victory at the expense of defending national champ Arizona—Smit delivered the meet’s decisive moment with a winning anchor leg in the 400-yard free relay. She also won three individual events (the 200 backstroke, the 100 freestyle and the 100 backstroke).

That said, it’s the Olympics context that makes her biography pop. According to Stanford media relations, Smit is one of just three active collegiate swimmers to have garnered two medals at last summer’s Beijing Games. As one of the participants in preliminary-round relays, she won a silver medal for the 400-meter free and a bronze for the 800-meter free.

Smit stayed through the closing ceremonies and was part of a group that bumped into actor Vince Vaughn at the Great Wall. But what remains most vivid to her is what happened in the pool as she watched one demonstration after another of stunning speed and once-in-a-lifetime accomplishments.

“When people got gold medals,” recalls Smit, “I’d tear up every time.’’

At Stanford, she gets fired up by the intensity of the team experience, of “competing in meets where every point matters.” She notes that the vast amounts of morning and afternoon practice time are less a strain than an opportunity “to mentally recharge and swim with your best friends.”

That makes for a rewarding daily life, which is a good situation to be in with about 1,200 days left before the London Games.