Interviewee: Nicole Haislett
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: December 16, 1996
P: Nicole, give us your full name, where you were born, and when you were
H: My full name is Nicole Lee Haislett. I was born in St. Petersburg, Florida,
today--December 16, 1972. Today is my birthday.
P: Happy birthday. We picked a good day. Where did you go to high
H: Lakewood High School.
P: When did you graduate?
P: I understand you swam or trained with the St. Pete Aquatics Club.
P: When did you start your swim training?
H: I started competitive swimming at the age of five on the summer swim
league. I am not sure if that is the proper name. A bunch of the city
pools had a big summer league program and I started there. After the
second summer, I believe I was six, I started swimming year round with St.
P: Why did you start so soon?
H: I have always lived in Florida. Since there is so much water surrounding
this state and [there are] so many pools, my parents wanted me to be
comfortable around water and not have to worry about me. So when I was
very young--just a few months old--my mom got me in the pool and used to
water and I liked it. I just took to it. When I was about eighteen months
old, my mom said I could swim the length of the pool--a backyard pool, not
a racing pool--underwater on my own. So I guess I was kind of a natural.
At about four, I think I learned the four strokes. I went to this summer
team, tried out, and made the team. They found out I was four and you
had to be five. They sent me home and said come back in a year. It was
a fun thing. All of my friends did it. It was hot in the summer, so it was
natural to want to be in the pool. It just took off from there.
P: One summer, you trained at the Canadian Swim Club, this is much later, at
Etobicoke. I did an interview with Elfi Schlegel [Olympic gymnast,
University of Florida]. Do you know Elfi?
P: That is where she is originally from. Is that how you got there?
H: No. I went there in the summer of 1989. The summer before, at the
Olympic trials, I met Mitch Ivey [University of Florida, Head Swimming
Coach, 1990-1993], who was my coach here. He was coaching a team in
California at the time called Concord Pleasant Hill, but was going to be
leaving them right after the Olympic trials to go coach at Etobicoke. My
coach at the time, her name was Dawn Hewitt, was good friends with him.
She introduced me to him and he was really taken by my swimming. I was
only sixteen at the time. He became very interested in me. Right after
that meet, my coach was fired and she decided to go up to Canada and
coach with him. I was disgruntled by her being gone, because we had a
great relationship and I liked her as a coach. I did not like the new coach
who came in for me. I kind of butted heads with him. So I decided that
next summer I would go up there and train with them [Dawn and Mitch].
P: Dawn Hewitt was the coach for the St. Pete Aquatics Club?
P: Did you swim in high school at all or did you just swim with this club?
H: Yes, I did. I swam in high school, but only in the meets. I trained with the
St. Pete Aquatics Club and swam the state dual meets with my high school
team. We had quite a few people on my high school team who did that,
because the level of training at my high school was not what we needed.
P: You went to Canada in 1989 and then you came back to St. Pete.
P: How did you decide on the University of Florida and when did you decide to
H: My senior year I only took two recruiting trips. I had a couple others
scheduled, but I canceled them. I took one here and one to Texas.
There is an early signing period in November and a late one, I think, in
April. I waited until late into the spring to take my trips. This is kind of
funny. That was when Randy Reese [Randolph Reese, University of
Florida, Head Swimming Coach, 1967-1990], who was the coach here at
the time, was on his way out and Mitch, my coach in Canada, was being
considered for the women's position. I do not think that he and Dawn
were married yet, but maybe they were.
P: This is Dawn Hewitt and Mitch Ivey?
H: Yes. They were a couple and, obviously, she would be coming with him.
That played a big part in my decision. My dad went to school here, my
sister went to school here, [and] her husband went to school here. Ever
since I was nine or ten years old, I have been coming to a meet here every
December. I always wanted to be a Gator. I always wanted to swim on
the team. I just thought it would be the coolest thing. There is such a
great tradition and I would be close to home. There were a lot of factors.
I think the thing that solidified [my decision to come here] was swimming for
Mitch. I thought he was a great coach and I swam really well with him that
P: Had he been hired by the time that you signed?
H: I think that he had. When I was thinking what I was going to do, it was not
a done deal but I knew that [he was going to be signed].
P: Would you have liked to swim for Randy Reese?
H: I do not know. He was a great coach. A lot of my friends who swam here
for him just loved him to death. He was one of those coaches who tried
everything and did everything--who was kind of crazy. I always heard
through the swimmers who swam for him that he would work your butt off,
but then you had to rest yourself because he did not like to rest people
much. I think I would have swam well for him. He had lots of sprinters
who did very well.
P: Would you have wanted to go to his brother at Texas? Was that one
reason you were thinking about that school?
H: Actually, no, because Eddie is the men's coach there.
P: Oh, he is the men's coach. When you got here, one of the problems that
we have discussed earlier is that you would have to swim a certain number
of hours everyday. How did you balance your swimming, your academics,
and, presumably, have time for a social life? How did you work all that
H: I had practice in high school because I swam morning workouts. I had to
get up at 4:50 a.m. and I swam from 5:15 to 6:15 or 6:30. It was not real
long, but that is because school was so much earlier.
P: This is high school?
H: Yes. In the afternoon, I was at the pool for another three hours swimming
and doing weights. I had to deal with kind of the same thing then.
Obviously, the intensity level increases when you come to [the University
of] Florida. The classes are harder, there is more training involved, it is
more intense, [and] there are more meets. It is something that you learn
to deal with. You figure out what your priorities are, what is important to
you, and you make sacrifices. It is not always easy, but, fortunately, the
athletes here have a lot of support and a lot of help as far as tutors,
counselors, and all kinds of things. Sometimes your social life suffers a
little bit, but you love the sport and that is why you learn to deal with it.
P: I know for a fact that you are an outstanding student and that you made
All-Academic SEC, I think, several times. It is one thing to do the work; it
is another thing to excel at both levels. I mean, [to win] gold medals and
[to maintain] a high academic standard is very, very difficult. How do you
explain that level of accomplishment?
H: I think it all stems back to what I learned through swimming. Starting at
such an early age, I learned a lot about myself and about the sport. It is
not just swimming; it is any sport. It teaches you about goals, hard work,
giving things up, and those are all things that can be carried over into any
aspect of your life [including] academics. It is rare that you find someone
who is really good at one thing and then does not care or does not try at
anything else. It was just natural for me to want to do well in school or
whatever it is that I was doing.
P: I guess part of it is just discipline.
H: Yes. Nothing is easy. You have to work hard for everything, so it carries
P: Let us talk a little bit about your degree and when you got it. What was
your degree in?
H: Telecommunications production. I graduated this past spring after a few
semesters off here and there.
P: What was your final grade point average?
H: It was right around 3.0 or 3.1.
P: How much did your scholarship pay?
H: It was a full scholarship.
P: How did they treat you in terms of the commitment they made to you and
then following through on those commitments?
H: I was actually in my last semester of classes in January of 1995. I had
gone through about a week of class and decided at that point to move to
Colorado to train, so I withdrew [from school]. Everyone said, you only
have one semester left and you are going to come back and do it. The
University Athletic Association said, let us know when it is and we will give
you your scholarship and we will help you get into classes. They were
very eager and helpful to do anything, because they wanted everyone to
graduate. When athletes are on their fifth year, if you are not still training,
they require that you work for the Athletic Association doing something.
They usually try to do it [so that your work is] related to your major or what
you are interested in. For me, there really was not anything that worked
with my major, so I assisted baseball and women's volleyball. I worked
with their secretary and did little odds and ends for the coaches. It was
just about eight or ten hours a week. It was a full scholarship. It is now
twenty hours a week, so I got off easy.
P: If you look back, this is the twenty-fifth year of women's athletics at the
University of Florida, things have changed rather dramatically. I think we
would see in the last four or five years that women's sports have become
much more equal to men's sports. Did you find that, for example, on the
H: Yes. While I was here, I never felt that the men's swim team had anymore
than we did or had more privileges. I never saw that anywhere, except for
football. They have more scholarships because they have more players.
They get bigger prizes if they win the SEC and so on. [But] it was not like
it was an unfair thing, because they are the ones who are bringing in all of
the money for us. I never had any problems with that kind of thing. I
think it is pretty impressive that they have added the two women's
sports--softball and soccer--and have not gone the way that many other
schools have [of] dropping men's programs. I think that is a really big
statement. I always felt that I was treated fairly and equally here.
P: What about the facilities, in terms of the pool, for instance? Did you stay
in the dorm?
H: I lived in the dorms for one year. They built new dorms now which are
really nice. I stayed in Sledd Hall which was OK, but kind of old. Our
facilities are great. We have the outdoor pool and the indoor pool. The
indoor pool is perfect for dual meets; it is not a real great pool for hosting
Southeastern Conference Championships or anything like that, [but] it
definitely gets the job done. The fact that we can swim outside or inside
on a long course or short course is great. Our offices and locker rooms
are not on the great side, but they are building us a new building. They
are going to start after the first of the year. That will be a million dollar
building with brand new offices, locker rooms, a team room, coaches'
locker rooms, and a small training room. It is about time; it is going to be
P: But you see a real commitment on the part of the University Athletic
Association toward women's sports?
P: More so than most universities?
H: It is hard to say. Guessing, I would say, yes. Just from [talking to] friends
I have had over the years who have gone to different schools and from
stuff that I have read in the paper, it seems like Florida has a good handle
on what they are doing.
P: What benefits have you derived from your four years at the University of
H: Basically, life experience. I think college is such a crucial part of your
growing up. You are not really out in the real world. It is about as close
as you are going to get [to the real world] until you really are [to be there].
You learn so much about yourself and about other people. It is a lot
different from high school. You have a lot more responsibility. You are
on your own; you do not have your parents there to tell you to study or to
tell you to go to bed, you are a lot more self-reliant. As far as the sports, I
made a lot of friendships and learned even more about swimming. I was a
real good swimmer when I came here, but did not realize how much further
I could go or how much more there was to know. In my four years
competing here, [my knowledge of the sport] almost tripled what I knew
before. I notice things now more than ever because now I am not a
student here, I am still around the university and see all the students, and I
work with the swimmers. It is really funny for me to watch the different
stages that they go through and to think back and remember what it was
like for me. It is pretty interesting.
P: Speaking of the real world, how did you decide to come back and coach?
H: I always said I will never coach. It was not because I did not want to; I just
did not think I could do it. I did not think I would have an opportunity like
this. I am the kind of person who wants to work with top athletes. I love
kids to death, but it is not very interesting for me to coach them because I
want to see people swim real fast. When I came back to finish my degree,
I was still talking to the coaches periodically. Kevin Thornton [University of
Florida, Assistant Women's Coach, 1995-1996; Head Women's Swimming
Coach, 1996-present], who is our head coach for the women's team, was
the assistant at the time. [He] was trying to get the women's position.
We had talked about it a little bit. He brought up the idea about me
assisting. I thought that it was a crazy [idea], there is no way. Then he
started talking about it more. I talked to some people about it, and said,
what do you think. The more I thought about it, [I realized] there was no
way that I could turn it down. It was a perfect opportunity for me to figure
out whether I liked coaching, and whether I was any good at it. It is the
top level. It is at this university which I know and they know me. It is one
of the best sports programs in the country. I would have been a fool to
P: Do you think it is going to be a career? Do you like it?
H: Sometimes yes; and sometimes no. I think coaching is probably one of
the most frustrating things just as teaching is when you have to deal with
youngsters, not that I am old. Some days I love it, I am having the best
time, and other days I want to kill them. I have so much to learn. There
is so much more to coaching than you realize as a swimmer. Everyday I
learn something new. I am going to give myself at least two years here
just to learn the ropes. I do not want to leave this place; I love it here. I
take it day by day. I have a lot of other interests.
P: It is really interesting to be on the other sid. When you are on the other
side, it makes you appreciate some of the problems that you had with
H: Definitely. It is amazing.
P: What are you responsibilities primarily as a coach?
H: As far as administrative stuff, Kevin does a lot of work. He is not one of
those head coaches who pushes everything off on his assistant. I
sometimes have to ask for stuff to do because I do not have enough. I
make a lot of recruiting calls, [take care] of a lot of the paper work. I do all
the financial forms and paper work anytime we have recruits in on visits. I
do the weekly monitoring forms for the NCAA. I help him with travel
[arrangements]. I am there everyday as far as coaching. I am there at
every practice. During practice everyone might warm-up together, but
then we split into different groups to do different stuff. I will go with one
group. I do not have a specific group of people to myself. Kevin makes
up most of the workouts. Sometimes he will tell me, make up today's
[workout] or I want to follow these guidelines make up a set for this. He is
out of town this entire week, so he just had a few sets for me to follow.
The rest I am making up on my own. I do a lot of hands on coaching; I
make all kinds of corrections. We are both there paying attention to
P: So you work with the stroke, the kick, and turns?
H: Yes, everything.
P: Does it help that you are a three-time gold medal winner? Do they tend to
listen to you more than they might otherwise?
H: I think so. I was nervous coming into the job about how they would
respond. A lot of swimmers have a hard time with female coaches. I did
not know how they would react to me since I am not much older than they
are. I think there is instant respect because of my career. They know
that I am not just talking. I know what I am talking about [because] I have
come from where they are. They have been great. They never really back
talk me. Actually, some of them are afraid of me. I am not mean to them,
but I guess I can be intimidating. When I say something, for the most part,
they believe that I know what I am talking about.
P: As a coach, how do you motivate them?
H: That has been one of the hardest things--trying to figure that out. This
team is real young; we have no seniors and we only have four or five
juniors. The rest are freshmen and sophomores. They just have not
gotten it yet--the fact that this is the college level, this is one of the best
teams in the country, it is not easy. You have to stand up and race every
single time, that is frustrating. They have to want to do it. You cannot
make them want to do it. You have to somehow figure out a way to get
them fired up. When people ask me about coaching, one thing I always
say is how do you get them [motivated]? What do you do? I am still
learning that. I do not think that you ever figure that out 100 percent.
P: Because the bottom line is really self-motivation, is it not?
H: Right. I think that is what you have to recruit when you look at swimmers.
Do they really want to be good? Do they want to work hard?
P: Why are there so few female women's swim coaches?
H: I do not know. When I was talking about my coach earlier--Dawn
Hewitt--she came in right after another coach I had, I had lots of coaches
when I was growing up, his name was Dave. When he left, I was just
beside myself. Then Dawn came in and I did not want anything to do with
her. She was in her mid-twenties; I had actually swum on the team with
her when I was a lot younger. She was a woman. I think it was the
authority part of it; I do not know why. It seems silly to me now. I really
gave her a hard time. I actually left one summer when she was there. I
went to train in Jacksonville. Then after I realized [that] I am in this
position and I have no choice, I made it work and it turned out great. This
is one theory I have--coaching is such a time consuming job and you
cannot be normal as a coach. You are constantly thinking of your
athletes. You are living the life of an athlete, but only worse because you
have to be there longer and you have to plan. I can only imagine what it
would be like to try to balance a family with that. I think maybe that is one
reason a lot of women do not get into it.
P: Do female swimmers prefer a male coach?
H: If I said, yes, I think that would be a wrong answer. I would probably say
that most of them do, but there are a lot of women who would rather swim
for a [female coach]. At the college level at Division I, there are not very
many female head coaches. I know a lot of the swimmers who swim for
female coaches, swim there for that reason.
P: There are not a lot of world class swimmers who have been trained by
women, are there?
H: No. I am just trying to think of all the international meets I have been to
over the years and I cannot think of any head coaches who I have ever
seen from any country who are female.
P: Maybe you are about to change that.
H: Maybe. The head coaches for the Olympic team are chosen and their
head assistant is chosen, and there has never been a female coach for the
U.S. team. I think that there has been a female coach who has made it
based on their swimmer's performance, but that is not the same. So it
would be pretty cool to be the first appointed Olympic coach.
P: Yes. Maybe that will change. Are there more women who would be
interested in coaching?
H: I do not know. It seems like more men after swimming competively, go in
that direction. I do not know why. Maybe it is because women realize
that there are not many female coaches out there. They [wonder whether]
they will get the respect they deserve, so they just do not even bother. I
do not know.
P: Let's talk about your career at Florida. Let me get some general
background. What was your best event?
H: The 200 freestyle.
H: I think for various reasons. I had a real good stroke for it. I was a
sprinter, but I could also swim middle distance. I had a lot of easy-speed,
which is important for that race. I loved it. I had a lot of respect for the
event. I think that is one thing that helps.
P: It is also your favorite event.
H: Yes. It is a very challenging event because it combines speed with
endurance and you have to have strategy. To me that was a big
challenge. My goal was to conquer the event--figure out how to be the
best at swimming it.
P: Talk a little bit about strategy.
H: What about it?
P: How would you plan a race? Let's just say that at one point you were the
American record holder in the 200 freestyle.
H: I still have that record.
P: How did you set that record? What kind of strategy did you use for that
H: For the most part, I tried to swim my own race every time. I did not worry
about what other people beside me were doing. I had my way of
swimming it and I would pretty much always stick to that. Of course, there
would be times when it would change. For example, that race I have the
record in both meters and yards. I broke it in meters at the Olympics
[Barcelona, Spain, 1992 Summer Olympics]. The girl who I was swimming
next [that morning swam] better than my best time. I knew it was going to
be a big race. She had a lot of speed. I knew she would be very fast for
the first 100. My strategy was to go out with her, but let her do the work
and stay right with her but not let her get too far ahead. I would say the
biggest part of the race was flipping at the halfway point. I worked that
turn especially hard, I wasted a little bit of energy, but she had terrible turns
and I had real good turns. When I came off the wall with her, I went in
behind and came out even with her and she looked over at me and
panicked. She scrambled a little bit for the third fifty. I stayed relaxed
and did what I did, and had another great turn. Then we raced head to
head on the last fifty. My coach and I had talked about that before the
race, and it happened just as we said. For the most part, when I was
racing if I was even with someone on the last lap or the last fifty, very rarely
did I lose. So I had a lot of confidence from that point.
P: Is that just sheer determination or training?
H: I think [it is] both. I knew at that point in the race that was my last shot for
an Olympic gold medal individually. There was no way in hell that I was
not going to win. It was not even an option; I had to win. It was basically
going to come down to the touch, which I knew approaching the wall. I
had practiced perfect finishes for so long, and I had so many of them in
practices that I knew that I could do it.
P: So it is the old story--stay focused, you know what you can do [and] you
have to do it; but, of course, under the circumstances emotion plays a
P: You can be frightened, nervous, or panic.
H: I never got scared before races. I always got nervous, and I wanted to be
nervous, but I never got scared. That was probably one of the first times
that I was ever scared, because she had swam so fast in the morning and
this was so many years of training and this one 200 [race] meant
everything. I was nervous. I got up on the blocks and a calm came over
me. I had been the best in the world for awhile and I knew that I could do
it. I just let my mind and my training carry me through.
P: You were the world champion in the 100 freestyle, the 400 freestyle, and
the 400 medley. These are different kinds of races. How did you do in
the 100 because that is a pretty short, intense race?
H: Right. I won the 100 Freestyle in the World Championships in January of
1991. I was a freshmen; I had just turned eighteen. At that point in my
career, my 200 was not very good. I did not have a lot of experience
swimming it. I would have a good swim, and then I would have a terrible
swim. There was not a lot of confidence there. My 100 was much better.
I had a lot more speed. I was training more for the 100. My time from
that race never really improved. I went a 55.17 in that World
Championships. Then the fastest I ever went after that was 55.14. So I
was always right in that area. As I got better at the 200, I started training
more for the 200 and I think that took a little bit away from my 100. At the
Olympics, I was the second American who qualified [in the 100 meters] to
swim in Barcelona. I qualified fourth in the preliminaries and got fourth at
finals--I just missed a medal. I was pretty heartbroken about that.
P: You did expect to win a medal, but not necessarily a gold [medal]?
H: Yes. I knew that winning a gold medal I would have to have a real, real
good swim, which I was ready for because I had been at that same time for
so long. I sort of lost confidence in that race--it all had gone to the 200. I
had focused my training so much on the 200. But I expected a medal; I
wanted a medal. I got fourth. It was a pretty big disappointment, but the
next day was the 200, so I had to get over it.
P: Was the 100 your first [1992 Olympic] race?
H: Yes, my very first race.
P: What about the 400 free and the 400 medley?
H: Actually those are the relays--the 400 free relay and the 400 medley relay.
In those races each swimmer swims one 100. In the World
Championships, I anchored both of those.
P: You always anchor with freestyle?
P: You were a twenty-eight time All-American, which is the maximum you can
get. How do you qualify to be an All-American?
H: To be an All-American you have to place in the top eight at the NCAAs.
P: What about age in swimming? We see a lot of swimmers like Janet Evans
who do extremely well at age fourteen. Sometimes when they get to be
eighteen and nineteen they may be too old, but you did your best times
when you were eighteen or nineteen.
H: Right. I think that it is different for every person. It used to be back in the
1970s and 1980s that male swimmers always went a little bit longer, but
the best female swimmers were in their mid-teens. You saw twelve year
olds even. Over time that has changed. I think a lot of it is because now
there are more opportunities to train as you are older, post-graduate stuff.
There is more money. A lot of people had to drop out of the sport because
they just could not afford to keep training. They had to work; they were
not on scholarship anymore. They could not do it. Now, with the
changes in swimming, the possibilities are greater. People are a lot more
knowledgeable about training and about bodies and everything. That is
why people are swimming fast at an older age. [For instance], you do see
a lot of breast strokers who are doing very well like Amanda Beard [U.S.
Gold Medalist, 1996 Olympics] who swam in Atlanta and won two silver
medals and a gold medal. She is fourteen years old and she is a stick.
She is awesome. It is going to be real interesting to see what happens to
her in a few years. Her body is going to change, and with that her stroke
is going to change, that is what happens to a lot of the breast strokers. I
do not know why it is that stroke specifically, but it is a really complicated
stroke. I have seen so many people go [in] that direction. The biggest
thing you see with the swimmers who do real well young and fall off is
either body changes or [it is] mental. They either get burned out or they
go through changes. They do not do well for a couple of years, and they
never can turn it back around.
P: I think once you stop, it is awfully hard to get the edge back. What about
this fourteen year old business? That is an awful lot of pressure, time, and
training. Is it too much? We heard in the Olympics particularly about the
gymnasts--they were too young and fragile, and this was too much
pressure. Is that the case?
H: I think it depends on the sport. [For] fourteen year old pro tennis players
and gymnasts, [there] is a lot of pressure. I think that gymnastics is a
really difficult sport mentally and physically. I think that most swimmers
swim because they want to and because they love it. It is real hard to say
to a fourteen year old who is at an Olympic level, sorry, you are too young;
let's hold back for a couple years and see what you can do. If that is the
way their career goes, then that is the way it goes. I would rather win
some Olympic medals at fourteen, and then never [swim] again, than not
[win any] at all.
P: Should there be an age limit for the Olympics?
H: Yes, I think so. I think it is fourteen. I think that is probably a good idea.
P: One other thing about some of your awards. You won the Honda
Broderick Award for swimming. What was your reaction to winning
something like that because that is a national award? How did you feel
when you were given that award?
H: I had been nominated for it a couple times before and had not won it. The
swimmers who won it prior to me were good friends of mine and people
who I really respected. So when I won it, I felt great to finally have won it,
but I think I did not realize the magnitude of it until I actually went to San
Diego for the awards ceremony. [When I] got there, [I] was with all the
other athletes from the other sports and was just in awe that I had been
chosen among these people. One of them was Lisa Leslie [U.S. Gold
Medalist, 1996 Olympics], the center on the women's basketball team.
[Another was] Mia Hamm [Mariel Mia Hamm, U.S. Gold Medalist, 1996
Olympics], the soccer player, and also Lisa Fernandez [U.S. Gold Medalist,
1996 Olympics], a softball player on the Olympic team. I felt so little there.
I came from Florida when I was a bit of a star, and then I got there and I
was very humbled by everyone around me. It was pretty neat. It was one
of those things that does not always stand at the top of your list. When
you think back on your career you always think about the records and the
medals and stuff, but those [national awards] are things that are really
important because it is more than just the swimming.
P: That is the key to that. I think we see that a little bit with Danny Wuerffel
[University of Florida, quarterback 1996 National Champion football team
and 1996 Heisman Trophy winner]. I think one reason he won [the
Heisman Trophy] is because he was a good scholar-athlete. Primarily,
that is the award. I would think it would give you a lot of satisfaction.
P: Let's talk about swimming for the University of Florida. How much
different is it to swim for a team, rather than swimming individually? How
does [that affect your participation] in meets?
H: College is the only place where you actually score points as a team, so that
changes things a little bit. My outlook on it, when I was swimming at
Florida, was that it is still an individual sport. As long as you swim well
individually, then you are doing good for the team. Now that I look back
on it, there was more to it. It was being a leader and working together as
a team. I was not a real outspoken person, but I led by example. People
had a lot of respect for me because I worked hard and got the job done. I
did not really think about it that much while I was actually competing, but
now that I look back on it and see the team here [I realize the importance of
that leadership presence]. There is not really a strong leader on our team
now, so [now that I see the importance of it] and I value more what I had.
P: How would you feel if you swam very well and the team lost?
H: Not too great. I would obviously be very happy with my individual
performances, but [due to] the fact that we were a team, it would have
been a big let down. There was such a great pride and tradition at the
University of Florida with our team and teams from the past. We never
won the NCAAs, but we were always in the top three. We won the SEC
every year and we were pretty dominant on relays and stuff, so those were
big factors to me.
P: So those were big goals--for you to win the SEC?
H: Yes, definitely. In the history of women's swimming, we have only lost it
one time, so that is a big thing to our team.
P: How many events would you swim in a normal meet?
H: In a dual meet, three events.
P: In the SECs would you swim more?
H: In the SECs you can swim three individual events and up to four relays.
P: How many would you do?
H: All of them, seven.
P: Over how many days?
P: Is that not a little taxing?
H: Yes, it is. It is a long meet and there is a lot of racing. You have to swim
morning and night, so it is really actually fourteen swims.
P: Because you do the prelims first?
P: In swimming, have you done anything other than freestyle?
P: You do the individual medleys?
H: I swam individual medley. I was actually on the Olympic team in that
event. I won it one year in the NCAAs.
P: Did you like that?
H: I liked it. Freestyle was my better thing, but the individual medley was a
lot of fun for me because it was less pressure and it was all four strokes. It
was a fun event to swim. It was always fun to move to a different event
and do real well at it because people are always kind of surprised.
P: [There is] one other area I wanted to ask you about. You were SEC
Swimmer of the Year four times and no male or female swimmer has ever
done that. How do you feel about that kind of award? This is more of an
SEC, rather than just individual, award.
H: I have always had a strong feeling for the SEC. It is one of the best
conferences in the country. It is a very good swimming conference, very
competitive. I am kind of protective of it because that is our conference.
To have been chosen, among all the great swimmers who were in the
conference, the swimmer of the year four times, to me, was a pretty big
accomplishment. It was exciting stuff.
P: How would you compare your career to Tracy Caulkins [University of
Florida Swimmer, U.S. Gold Medalist, 1984 Olympics]?
H: I would not even compare it. She is probably the most amazing swimmer
ever in the history of swimming. There are people like Janet Evans [U.S.
Gold Medalist, 1988 and 1992 Olympics] who have dominated distance
swimming--she is the best distance swimmer ever. You can say the same
thing about Mary T. Meagher [U.S. Gold Medalist, 1984 Olympics] in the
fly, but Tracy Caulkins could swim anything and everything and she did.
She is the only person to have ever qualified for senior nationals in every
stroke. She has had, I think, sixty-three individual national titles and
forty-eight American records, or something like that, in every stroke. That
is just out of control. I think she was on the team that was boycotted. If
she had been able to swim in those Olympics, [who knows what she would
have won]. She is amazing.
P: She never got SEC Swimmer of the Year four times, so you got her there.
H: That is only because she did not swim her last year, I think.
P: Let's talk a little bit about your experiences in a certain number of events.
Let's talk about the 1994 World Championships in Rome. How do you do
in a World Championship after you have done an Olympics? Is it less
competitive, less interesting; [is there] less desire?
H: No. It is definitely not less competitive. Besides the Olympics, the World
Championships is the biggest meet in swimming. For me, at that time,
swimming was not going real well. I was struggling with a lot of different
things. My strokes had changed and I was not swimming very well. My
confidence had gone and that was one of the reasons I always swam so
fast is because I had so much confidence. I knew when I stood up on the
blocks that I had done everything possible in order to win. At that point in
my career, I did not have that same belief that I had done everything and
that I was as committed. I think part of it came from having won the gold
medals. After the Olympics, nothing was ever really the same. I think
that was because you say, well, what is next? It is not that you do not
think the World Championships is important. It is really hard to explain. I
wanted to swim fast and I wanted to keep swimming. It meant just as
much to me. It was just that I was not doing what I needed to be doing.
Having already done that and already knowing what it took, that was a big
P: You were not burned out?
H: No. I do not think I was burned out, but for some reason I just could not
get myself motivated enough.
P: You lost the mental edge and, of course, in World Championships we are
talking about tenths of a second. That edge is the difference between a
great swim and a good swim.
P: Your times in the [World Championships] were less than your Olympic
P: I also noticed in looking through your records that some of your best times
were in the SECs and the NCAAs. In fact, I think you once set the U.S.
record. How do you explain that? These are events that are obviously
less important than the Olympics or the World Championships, yet you
swam some of your best times.
H: College swimming is short-course and Worlds and Olympics are
long-course, so they are totally different. Of course, the Olympics and
World Championships roll around every four years, really every two
because they are split, so every other year there was something huge.
Having been on the college team, the NCAAs was probably the most
important meet of the year, unless it was an Olympic year. So you fully
taper, rest, and shave for those meets and try to swim real fast.
Short-course swimming in America is a big deal. As I said, we had a lot of
pride as far as SECs, so we always rested for that and I had to try to swim
real fast there. I had a lot of pride swimming in the SEC and I was
undefeated in my individual events.
P: You never lost?
H: Never lost. I think we lost one relay, but I won everything else, even all
P: Obviously, you were highly motivated?
H: Even if I had not shaved for it and I was not as rested as I would be for the
NCAAs because it was only three weeks later, I wanted to swim real well
there, so I got myself pretty pumped up for those things.
P: Are some pools actually faster than other pools?
H: The depth, for one, is a big thing. The deeper it is the faster it is. If you
are swimming in a real shallow pool, the currents are going to bounce off
the bottom. It can also depend on the gutter systems. With the real
old-style gutters, the water just goes into them and comes right back out.
But if you have the overflow gutters, where the water just runs over the side
and just drops off into the things, then all the turbulence goes away from
the pool. The lane ropes also make a difference with turbulence. The
way it looks, the way it feels--the atmosphere makes a big difference. If
you walk into a real crummy-looking pool, that does not mean you cannot
swim fast in it, but a lot of times you are not as excited about it.
P: Now you were the 1991 World Champion and I do not know in what event.
H: That was the 100 freestyle, the 400 free relay, and the 400 medley relay.
P: That was where?
H: Perth, Australia.
P: How did you enjoy Australia?
H: I loved it. I had been in Australia, exactly a year before. We went for a
World Cup meet. They chose a group of people who they thought would
probably make the World Championship team the following year. It was
kind of like a scouting thing. We went over there and got used to the time
change, and saw what it was like. We stayed in the same hotel, and
swam in a meet and had a lot of fun. I was so excited to go back. I just
loved it. It was great. I love Australia.
P: I lived there for a year, years ago.
P: I lived in Brisbane. I feel the same way about it. I just loved it. As you
know, Tracy lives there. There are a lot of Americans [there].
H: Kevin, our head coach, left yesterday to go [there].
P: See, there we are. Let's talk specifically about the Olympics. When did
you start training for the 1992 Olympics?
H: At the age of five. It is not like you all of a sudden one day you go, oh,
now I am training for the Olympics. Every day, every practice, every year,
every season is to get better and better. It carries over. It is not like we
just swim for a few months out of the year. We swim all year long. When
I was about ten, the dream of going to the Olympics started. When I was
about eleven or twelve, I realized that it was actually a possibility [to go to
the Olympics], if I worked real hard. There were obviously a lot of other
things I would have to do and achieve before I would even make Olympic
trials, but I never forgot about it. It was always kind of stored in the back
of my mind. I was just taking each little step to get a little bit closer.
P: Talk about your training schedule [for] an average day in 1991 or 1992.
What time would you start, how many hours would you swim, what kind of
H: It changes depending on where you are in the season. The hardest part
of the season would be approximately nine to eleven practices a week,
morning and afternoon [every week day], and then Saturday morning. I
think at that point I was swimming at either 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning. I
would swim anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours. Then, in the
afternoon, we came back and swam for another two hours, sometimes two
and a half [hours], and lifted weights after that. We would do aerobics,
running, or stadiums [running up and down the stadium steps at Ben Hill
Griffin Field] on the days that we did not lift weights. We did a lot of
medicine ball throws. We would do elastic bands which simulate your
stroke--you do that on land. [We did] a lot of different dry-land things.
The training changes with the time of the season also. A lot of it was
race-specific stuff--working on speed but also doing sets to increase your
aerobic capacity, strength-type stuff. We used to pull these baskets that
were on a pulley system. You had a cord that attached to your waist.
You swam out wiht elastic cords around your waits, the basket went up,
and you put weights in it. You would swim to the other side of the pool,
turn around, and they pull you back real fast. We did vertical kicking with
weights, which is like treading water but you are kicking and you had
weights in your hands. Then [we did] the basic type of training like
swimming, pulling, kicking, and stuff like that.
P: [Did you do] a lot of work on turns and strategy as well?
H: Yes. [We did] a lot of stuff on turns, starts, and relay takeoffs--working on
specific sets where you would do pace-type things. You would try to
simulate 50s from your events, like the middle 50s of your 200, stuff like
P: Are you always timed?
H: No. You are always on the clock because everything is always on an
interval and you always look to see where you are going. Not everything
was on a watch with your coach, only certain sets.
P: On the start--I noticed that at the 1996 Olympics [in Atlanta], males were
diving into the water and staying under water longer. I wonder, does that
help you? It seemed to me at least in one event the person who did that
was ahead of his competitors.
H: Right. It is mainly a fly thing now. In backstroke you used to be able to
kick under water for as far as you wanted, but they have changed the rules.
Now you have to come up within fifteen meters. They will probably make
the rule in fly, also. It is an advantage for some people, but not for others.
[For instance], in the streamline position [your arms are tight and your
hands are clasped over your head]. You are the most efficient. You have
the least drag then. If you can kick really fast in the streamline position,
then you can be ahead of someone who is swimming. But, obviously, you
go into oxygen debt. So to some people who do a lot of that type of
training, and who it does not affect at the end of the race, it is definitely an
advantage. But some people either do not have a strong enough lung
capacity or they are not good enough kickers.
P: So for freestyle, aerobics is absolutely critical.
H: Yes, depending on the event. The 50 freestyle is really anaerobic, you
hardly even breathe in it. [To swim] anything from the 100 up, you have to
have some aerobic capacity. Obviously, in the longer distances you have
to have a lot more.
P: How do you breathe? Do you breathe on a stroke?
P: You always breathe exactly the same way exactly the same side?
H: No. Most people breathe both sides. Some people have breathing
patterns that they follow--they breathe every three strokes, or every four, or
every two, and then three and then two and then three.
P: What did you do?
H: I never really followed an exact breathing pattern. I probably did. If you
put all of my races together and looked to see when I breathed and
counted by strokes, they were probably about the same just because it was
built into me. I knew, [but] I just did it and did not think about it. In
practices, a lot of times Mitch would make me do two-two breathing, which
is two breaths on the right and then two on the left, back and forth like that.
P: What would be the advantage of that?
H: Just to keep my stroke balanced out, to keep everything even.
P: It is more important than you think it is, is it not?
H: Yes. Swimming is so complicated, there are so many little things that you
are constantly thinking about.
P: Plus, when you are dealing with tenths and hundredths of a second, any
little thing [matters], even the suit. The swimsuits, I understand, now are
different. What are they made of now?
H: I do not know. Speedo has come out with this new suit, I am not sure
what the fabric is, but it has little ridges--little lines that go along the length
of your body. They are supposed to channel the water. It is some
concept that they got from airplanes or NASA. They also have these suits
with things that look like an arrow without the straight part that are on the
butt of the suit. Those are supposed to decrease the turbulence or the air
right behind you. Speedo has come out with suits that have legs. They
go just above your knee. That is supposed to do something. I do not
know. My personal opinion is that there are so many little things you can
get wrapped up in and worry about that you forget to swim. It becomes a
psychological thing. You cannot get away from hard work and you cannot
get away from mental preparation. I think those are the things you should
worry about the most.
P: How do you motivate yourself to compete against time because, although
you are not always timed, you know you want to get the best time. You
know basically what it would take to win the Olympics, right? You need to
get down to that time. How do you motivate yourself, particularly over a
long period of time, to work toward that?
H: You give yourself goals in practice. There are some sets that you repeat
over time and you want to have better sets each time or the best times in
practice. [For instance, you might think], oh, I have never swam a 100 in
practice that fast before, stuff like that. Maybe Mitch would say, we are
going to do a set of 100s and I want you to try to hold this time, which
would be a big accomplishment. Stuff like that keeps you going.
Touching the wall first is what everybody wants to do, but sometimes, if you
are always touching the wall first, you have to start racing yourself.
Everybody wants to swim really fast and you just want to keep going faster
and faster, so you do not really have to motivate yourself. It is a natural
P: But in a sense, you really are racing yourself. You are really racing
H: Definitely. The clock is the telltale. There are a lot of swimmers out there
who are never going to be Olympic champions or who are never even
going to win an event. That is when it is even more important, because to
them it is just doing their best and having the best times. It is almost like
they do not even look at the place, they look at [their time and ask
themselves], did I go faster?
P: What about shaving? Is it physical or is it psychological?
H: Both. They have done tests and I think they say when you shave you take
off .07 seconds for each lap. But more than anything it is psychological.
It is a feel. You have a better feel for the water, you ride higher in the
water, and it just feels really great.
P: Also, you said you only shave for important meets. It also has a fairly
significant psychological impact?
P: When you are swimming for the Olympics, let's say before you swam the
200, what did you do the day or two before? How did you get ready for
that meet? How long had you rested?
H: I probably rested for up to six weeks before [the race]. It is a gradual rest.
You do not all of a sudden go from 8,000 meters per practice to 2
[meters]. It comes down a little each day and there are certain days where
you maybe will go up a little bit. It is really a complicated taper. Tapering
is never the same for any one person; it is different for everyone. You
never get it exactly right. [There are] always swimmers who say, I am not
doing enough, I am doing too much, or I just do not feel good yet. It is a
very psychological thing. I think two days out from the meet it is kind of
like, those next two days do not mean anything. You have either put in the
work and gotten the rest or you have not. It is just a matter of staying
focused, getting rest, staying off your legs, and getting yourself ready.
P: So you do not swim at all?
H: Oh no, you swim. I swim all the way up until the day before. You have to
stay in the water; you have to keep a feel for the water. You do not do
anything very hard, nothing for time.
P: Just like warm up?
H: Yes. [You do] mostly warm ups, drills, maybe a couple starts.
P: You do not swim at all the day before?
H: I do. I swim, probably just once, to get in and loosen up.
P: The day before the meet, what do you do about food and sleep and that
sort of thing?
H: Usually, the day before I would shave. That would be one thing. I usually
would not be real hungry [because] I would be nervous, so most of the stuff
I would eat would be pretty light like sandwiches, salad, or fruit, stuff like
that. I would not eat any big, heavy meals. I would definitely take a nap
during the day and pretty much stay off my legs to keep my legs rested.
P: You would not have any starches or anything like that?
H: Yes. I am more conscious of protein and carbohydrates now than I was
when I was swimming. Yes. I would have bread--I ate a lot of bread
when I swam. Maybe I would have had a salad for dinner, but I would
have a couple rolls or a couple pieces of bread with it. I drank lots of
P: Did you try to get eight hours of sleep, if you could?
H: Yes. I would pretty much always take a nap every day, or try to anyway.
I probably would not sleep all that great that night. I would be in bed at
10:00 or 11:00, hopefully. I had to get up fairly early the next morning, so
it probably would not be eight hours.
P: How would you swim differently in the prelims and in the final race in the
H: In the prelims, my main goal was to qualify in the top three so that I was in
the center of the pool and I had myself in a place where the race was going
to go on. I did not want to kill myself, I did not want to use up everything I
had, but I wanted to have a fairly decent swim so that I felt good about the
night. Whether your body is more warmed up and ready to go or if it is
psychological because that is when it really counts, you almost always
swim faster at night.
P: The center of the pool is faster?
H: The way they qualify is the top qualifier from the morning is in lane four, the
second person is in five, the third in three, and then six, two, seven, one,
P: So it does help to be in the center. When you swim prelims, you are still
swimming for a time, right? You are not looking at opponents?
H: There are several heats. The top eight from all those heats qualify. Most
of the time, you would want to win your heat because if you are third or
fourth in your heat then you have all these other people who could knock
P: You have finished the prelims, now you are going for the 200 free, and this
is after you have finished fourth in the 100, so you are a little disappointed.
Did that affect how you looked at the 200?
H: I do not think so. If anything it made me want to win it even more. That
was the event for me. I knew it was my best shot and I knew that I had
trained specifically for that event. I had to push the 100 aside and say, it is
over with, I cannot do anything about it now, and focus on the 200.
P: Right before you swim, what do you do? What do you do in the ready
room, for example?
H: If I remembered, I would tell you. Everything is such a blur. I really do
not remember things very well. I remember warming up real quickly
before I went to the ready room and I was in the warm-up pool and the
men's 100 fly was right before my event. Pablo Morales [U.S. Gold
Medalist, 1996 Olympics] was in it and you know that was a big story. My
coach at the Olympics came running in with this huge smile on his face and
I was like, did he win? I could tell [that he did]. I was really pumped up
about that, so I had some big adrenaline going. I warmed up, got my stuff
on, and went down to the ready room. All I can remember is being so
nervous. I do not even remember where I sat, I do not even remember
who I looked at, or what I was thinking. They put you in a line according to
your lanes and you march out. As I was marching out--here would be the
blocks and the pool going this way and then there were some stands right
behind the blocks--I just remember hearing these people yelling, "Go
Nicole, go Nicole!" For a second I thought, wow, that really sounds like
my family. I lost all concentration and I looked up and [saw that] it was
[them]. They were just behind my lane. I almost stopped the line-up
because I was staring at them wondering how on earth they got those
tickets. So everything I had been focusing on was gone. That was about
thirty seconds and I got back into my frame of mind.
P: Did that help, the fact that they were there?
H: Probably. One of the fondest memories that I have from the Olympics is
finishing the race and being able to see them right away. The first thing I
did was look at the clock and then I looked at them. That was a big thing
for me. I do believe that I thought about it once or twice during my race,
that they were right there.
P: Some people in the ready room stare down opponents. Do you get into
these mind games at all?
H: No. I was real quiet; I did not talk a lot. I just did my own thing. If it was
intimidating, then it was, but I did not do anything purposely. I did not spit
on anybody or make faces or anything like that.
P: Some people have headphones and things and sort of listen to music.
H: I do not think I had any headphones on.
P: This is a question we have sort of talked about and I want to get a little
fuller answer. You said before this race you were really scared, whereas
usually you were not scared, you were just nervous and nervous was good
because it gives you energy. How do you deal with being scared,
because that is a little bit different, and how do you deal with being
H: With being nervous it is just that you have the butterflies in your stomach.
I think one of the reasons I liked being nervous to race was because then I
knew that I cared and it was obviously something that was important to me.
[It meant] that I was ready to go--I felt excited and I had a little bit of the
jitters, but that was a good thing. It gave me, like you said, a little bit of
energy. But being scared was almost like a fear. I guess there was
always a fear before I raced, a fear of the unknown, which, like I said, I had
the confidence and I was a little bit cocky, but you could never be so cocky
that you did not fear losing.
P: That is what it is, a fear of losing.
H: Yes. It is a fear of losing, a fear of not doing well. The being scared part
was really weird. She [her opponent in the 200] had swam so fast in the
morning, it took me by surprise. Then to realize, OK, I am going to have to
swim that fast tonight, if not faster because she might go faster. Also, I did
not know much about this girl. She was only fourteen, she was brand new
to the scene, and I had never raced her before. It was just a whole
brand-new experience [for me]. It was the Olympics, this was everything I
had ever worked for. This is my event. It was just kind of like, wow.
P: When did you know you won? Do you know when you hit the wall?
H: I did not know. I think I felt pretty good about it, but I did not know. I
touched the wall and I looked back and it seemed like an eternity before
the places went down by the lanes. Then I saw the one.
P: You were swimming next to this girl.
H: Yes. I was right next to her.
P: And you did not see who touched first?
H: I breath hold the finish, so I do not breathe from five, six, seven meters out.
You cannot see the side of you and you are concentrating on your finish,
so you cannot really tell. You know if you are ahead of somebody, but I
was not ahead of her. We were even.
P: It was that close?
H: [The difference] was .1 seconds exactly. I did not know until I saw it.
P: In that race, the turn probably won it for you.
H: All of the turns really. Like I said, her [turns] were terrible and I just swam.
Most people say to me that race was probably the closest to a perfect
race that anyone has ever seen. I did everything right--I took advantage of
all of her weaknesses and did stuff with the things I was good at.
P: Talk about your other races in the Olympics. You won a gold in that one,
then you won the 400 free relay. Talk about that race.
H: I was the lead-off leg. There were three people behind me. The Chinese
were our biggest competition. We felt pretty strongly that we could break
the world record, which was held by the Germans for God knows how long.
I led off and the Chinese led off [with] their girl who had won the 100 and
had just missed the world record.
P: This is the one who had finished first when you finished fourth?
H: Yes. We raced and she beat me. She missed the world record by .03 of
a second. Franziska Van Almsick, who is the German I beat in the 200
and who got third in the 100, was Germany's lead off. She beat me again.
So we were, I guess, third after my leg. Our second and third leg
[swimmers] were pretty strong swimmers. They had great splits. Since
China and Germany had used their best swimmers, they kind of had their
middle people in there, so [our middle legs] got it back to a race to where
we were beating Germany and were real close to China. Our anchor leg
was Jenny Thompson [U.S. Gold Medalist, 1996 Olympics], and she was
the world record holder who got the silver in the 100. She had the fastest
relay split ever. She was moving and she won it [for us].
P: What was her stroke? All freestyle?
P: Now the other race is the 400 medley relay. Talk about that.
H: That one I swam in the morning. What they do is there are two people
who qualify in each individual event. The 400 medley relay is 100 back,
100 breast, 100 fly, 100 free. I was the second-best 100 freestyler, so I
swam in the morning. All the second-best people in those events swam in
the morning, qualified their relay for finals, and then the top people swam at
night. Now if I had beaten Jenny individually in the 100, then I would have
been on the night relay. But we still get medals because we qualified
P: You were in one other race in the Olympics, is that right?
H: Yes. The 200 individual medley. That was a real disappointment for me.
The 200 IM was the same day as the 400 medley relay. I was ranked in
the top four in the world in that event. I swam it in the morning. By this
time, my body was feeling fatigued and my mind was pretty much fatigued
also. I had a so-so swim in the morning, I went like a 2.17 and got second
in my heat and ended up getting ninth, so I did not make the final eight.
So I made the consolation final, but you cannot win a medal. That was
pretty disappointing, so I decided to scratch it. I did not swim it in the
consolation heat, which I wish that I had, but I just wanted to be done. I
was not going to win a medal. It was kind of the wrong attitude to take, but
[that is what I] did. My best time was a 2.14.4 and the bronze medalist
went a 2.14.0 and I really think that if I had qualified for finals and had
swum it, I probably could have raced her for that bronze, which would have
been pretty neat.
P: But that was too many races too close?
H: Yes. That is not an excuse because lots of people swim lots of events and
do well in all of them. It was not that I did poorly, I just did not have a
great morning swim and I just did not swim fast enough to get in. I think I
would have swum fast that night, but that is the way it goes.
P: Did the Olympics meet your expectations? When you went in did you
hope to get three gold medals and two bronze medals? What did you
have in mind?
H: I really do not know. Like I said, all my focus was pretty much on the 200,
but I felt that I could be very competitive in the other two events.
Obviously, [I felt that we could win] the relays. So the 100 was a
disappointment, but fourth place in the Olympics is not all that bad.
P: Most certainly not.
H: The 200 was an American record, a gold medal. I could not ask for more.
The IM was a disappointment, but to come away with three gold medals, I
guess I had not really thought about it that much. It is a very unusual meet
because there is so much pressure and you try to take the attitude that it is
just another meet, but you really cannot. You have no idea what to expect
until you actually get there. It does not matter how many people you talk
to or how much you try to prepare yourself, it is just unlike anything you
have ever been through.
P: How did you feel when you got up on the stand to get your first gold
H: To me it was like deja vu because I had visualized it and pictured it
happening so many times that it felt like I had already done it. It is funny
for me because I watched the 1988 Olympics the closest because I had
been to the Olympic trials and had more interest in it then I had in 1984,
[since in 1984] I was pretty young. After 1988 and before 1992, every
time I pictured the Olympics and pictured being on the award stands, I
always thought of Seoul [capital of South Korea, location of the 1988
Summer Olympics] and so getting to Barcelona, wow, it was totally
different. This is nothing like it was like in Seoul, it did not look like this,
and I had to say, Nicole, you are in a different place, this is a different
Olympics. It was pretty neat. It was funny because you watch it at home
and you watch them on the award stands, you watch them raising the flag,
and [you hear] the national anthem. So as I was standing there I was
thinking, wow, people at home are watching me right now getting my
P: I would think it would be one of the great thrills of your life to have won
individually, but also [to have] won for your country in the best competition
in the world. It must be an extraordinary experience. Did it change with
the relay medals when you got those? Did your reaction change because
it was a team medal not an individual medal?
H: Yes, I think so. It was like a bonus to be able to be on the relay and to
have contributed. Like I said, my split was not one of the best splits, so I
felt like, yes, I contributed, but these other people did amazing things. It
was kind of cool. It really felt like a team; people had done what they had
to do for us to win.
P: But you had to do as well as you did or they would have lost.
H: Right. T he 400 free relay win was just fun. It was the coolest, we broke
the world record. That was a big bonus to me.
P: Talk about your experiences in Barcelona. Where did you stay? How did
you feel about the whole event, rather than just swimming? I mean being
with people from other countries.
H: It was pretty exciting. Swimming is the first event, so we started day one.
I did not get to go to opening ceremonies because I had to race the next
day and that would have just knocked me out. We stayed in the Olympic
Village with all the other athletes. The way they did it in Barcelona was
each country had some buildings, so all the Americans were in these four
or five buildings together. Then the Germans were over here, and so and
so over here. But you ate with all the rest of the countries and all the other
sports and were basically with everyone else all the time, except when you
were in your dorms or apartments, whatever you want to call them. The
first week was swimming, I was very isolated; I did not really do anything.
I just went to the pool, came back, got something to eat, and stayed in bed
or went to the training room or whatever. I did not really see much, but
after the swimming was over was when I had a lot more fun. I went out
into Barcelona and did sightseeing, went out with the other athletes at
night, and got to see some of the other sports. That was really cool. That
was kind of what it was all about--to intermingle with the different athletes.
Not just in swimming. To meet people, that was pretty cool.
P: Did you exchange pins and do all that?
H: Yes. We did pins and traded shirts and warm ups and stuff like that.
P: Did you go down to Ramblas [main commercial street in Barcelona]?
H: Yes. I went down there with my parents.
P: Did you see the Church of the Sacred Family?
H: You know what, I did not go there. Is that not ridiculous? There are a
couple things that I did not do, and I could not believe that I never got
around to doing them, but I was having too much fun.
P: Part of the experience is really being in the Olympic Village and seeing
other people and enjoying a different environment. Once you finished
your races, you were free to really enjoy that and spend all your time [doing
H: Yes. That is what the Olympics is about--taking those two and a half
weeks where everyone in the world comes together and watches and
enjoys and celebrates sport and peace, and everyone getting along. So
that is pretty cool.
P: You won more gold medals than any other U.S. competitor, and I think one
other female won three gold medals. How did you feel about that in terms
of your team's accomplishment?
H: Pretty good. The women's and men's swimming teams did very well.
When they said that to me it was like, well, yes, but two of them were in
relays and one of them was in a relay that was in the morning. It sounds
great and it is great, I am definitely not down on myself about it, but to me
that is not as great as some of the other things.
P: Here is the question everybody gets. Where are your gold medals?
H: In a safe deposit box in St. Petersburg.
P: When you got them did you give them to your parents, show them to your
parents, have you shown them to other people?
H: Oh, yes. I have taken them to schools and I have worn them to a couple
places that I have gone to for appearances. After the 200 freestyle, I met
my family outside the pool because that was the only way I could get
outside the gates and go on the buses. I had a brief thing with them and
gave my medal to my dad right then. [I said], keep it in your pocket and
keep your hand on it.
P: Do not lose it.
H: Right, especially with all the pick pockets and stuff that goes on. I gave
them the medals right away.
P: Let me ask you a little bit different question now. We see in 1996 that the
Olympics are extraordinarily commercial. Was that the case with the 1992
Olympics, did you feel that?
H: I think that they are commercial and I think they were in Barcelona, but I do
not think it was anything compared to Atlanta. I could not believe it. In
Barcelona, it was not so present that it was distracting or that you were that
aware of it. Atlanta was just ridiculous. You could not look anywhere
without seeing a huge billboard or some sort of sign or commercial. It was
P: How should the Olympics be paid for?
H: I do not think it can be paid for unless there are sponsors as there are
[now]. I think maybe the sponsors, who are big enough as it is--like Coca
Cola, you are not going to tell me that they are not doing well--should have
a little more taste. Obviously, they are going to advertise and they are
going to have their name where it can be seen, but I think it can be done a
lot more tastefully and there could be a lot less of it.
P: Should athletes be paid, and who should pay for their training?
H: It is different for every sport and it is different for every country. I think that
there really are no more amateur athletics. The only thing that keeps
athletics amateur in the United States is the NCAA. That is really the last
grasp of amateurism. I think that the Olympics is supposed to be the
world's largest amateur sporting event and it is not anymore. It is totally
professional. You have people finishing races and saying, I am going to
Disney World! It is bad. This year either the USOC [the U.S. Olympic
Committee] or U.S. Swimming, it might have been U.S. Swimming, paid
$50,000 to everybody who won a gold medal.
P: This year?
P: Not 1992?
H: In 1992 there was money, but I really cannot tell you how much it was
because I did not take it. I still had two years [of college eligibility left] and
I did not want to give them up.
P: So you did not financially profit at all by three gold medals?
H: After NCAA swimming, yes. But I could have probably done very well right
afterwards, but two years later it is kind of over with. I have a Speedo
endorsement and contract plus appearances and stuff like that. I have an
agent. But I have not profited like I probably could have if I would have
done it right away. I do not think anybody should be paid. I think that if
the money is there and you are [in] a federation or [on] an Olympic
committee or whoever wants to endorse you wants to pay you, then great.
But I do not think that it should be a given. I do not think that every athlete
who wins a gold medal should receive X amount of dollars. That is not
what it is all about. Sometimes I look back on it and I think, wow, I missed
out on the opportunity to make pretty decent money, but it does not bother
me because that is not why I did it. It was never the goal. That was like a
bonus for me, to be able to make a little bit of money.
P: Would it not be true probably that most athletes would do it because they
loved the sport and wanted to excel, or do you see some of them who are
just out to become famous?
H: I would hope that most athletes had that opinion [that they loved the sport
and wanted to excel], but I think that in the past couple of years and now as
we go on that it is getting worse. People do not really care all that much.
They want to be big stars and celebrities. They want to make lots of
money. I think a lot of people stay in the sport longer than they should or
longer than they want to for those reasons. I think it is wrong.
P: What about the gymnasts? They have had parts in television programs,
they have been on a world tour, they have literally made money from all
sorts of endorsements--[on the] Wheaties box and that sort of thing. What
is your reaction to that?
H: Great. Like I said, if it is there, if you have the opportunity, then take it, run
with it. There is nothing wrong with making money, there is nothing wrong
with having your face being recognized.
P: It would be foolish not to.
H: Right. Just do not let it take precedence over the real reason behind
competing and training and all those things. Money can definitely cloud
P: After you finished the 1992 Olympics, did you plan to swim in the 1996
H: Yes. I planned on it and I swam all the way up until July 1995, so it was
just about a year out that I retired. I probably could have kept swimming
and I probably would have made the Olympic Team. I do not know
whether I would have made it individually, but I probably would have made
it on a relay. I would have gone and probably won a medal based on a
relay. It would not have been the same; it would have been mediocre and
I have never trained for that. That is what I was training for--mediocrity,
and I was not as committed as I was in 1992. My confidence was gone
and it was not fun. Swimming had always been fun and all of a sudden it
was becoming something that I had to do. Deciding to retire was probably
the hardest decision I have ever made. It took a long time--it was not a
week, it was months. I do not have any regrets now. I look back and I
say, well, maybe if you had done this, things would have been different. I
did not do it, so I cannot live in the past. One of things that [helped me
decide that it was time to retire] was that the memories that I was starting
to have were not all good, some of them were bad. I did not want to end
my career with bad things. I wanted to always remember the good and
P: When you say mediocre, you just mean that you were not up to your world
H: Right. I do not mean mediocre to the average person, but to me, yes.
P: Was it physical as well as mental?
H: A little bit. I was struggling with my weight a little bit, which was a big
thing. My stroke had changed a little bit. The training that I was doing was
not what I had been doing when I was so successful, it was different stuff.
P: Was it coaching?
H: It was a different coach, yes. The coach that I had was really good, it was
just a totally different philosophy. I had so much confidence and belief in
Mitch and the type of training that we did. It worked so well for me and
then all of a sudden you change it. You are not doing real well and you
are constantly comparing them. Well, I did this, I did this. So I think that
hurt a little bit.
P: You went out to Colorado Springs to train?
P: How long were you out there?
H: About ten months.
P: What did you do out there on a given day?
H: Swam, weights.
P: This was ten months total commitment?
H: Yes. We trained at altitude, which is pretty hard on your body. We did a
lot of our aerobic stuff and conditioning at altitude and then we would travel
down to sea level anywhere from four to six weeks and do lots of quality
intense training because that beats up your body enough. Then to do it at
altitude, that just really digs you in a hole.
P: That was the U.S. Training Center out in Colorado Springs?
H: The Olympic Training Center.
P: Who paid your salary?
H: I was on a plan where I earned $1,200 a month from United States
Swimming. It is called the resident team. The resident team paid for all
of our travel expenses and our meals. I lived off this training center
because it is worse than dorms. I lived in a house, which I paid for, but I
was getting the money from U.S. Swimming, so that helped. If you lived
on the grounds, then everything was taken care of.
P: Are you glad you did that?
H: Yes. It was pretty cool. I became better friends with a lot of people who I
already knew. It was a great team experience. Jonty Skinner was the
coach there. I learned a lot about swimming from him. He is a real big
technician. He does a lot of testing. He is very [much] into stroke
mechanics and does a lot of filming and analysis, so I learned a lot of
things through him.
P: So that helps you in your coaching now?
P: But you still regretted not competing in 1996, even though you still were not
quite at your standard?
H: I do not know if I would say regretted it. It would have been nice,
obviously, to have been there and swimming. But I would not have
wanted to be there swimming if it were just swimming. The only way I
would have wanted to be there is if I was on top, swimming fast, winning
P: I want to go back to the 1988 Olympics. You did swim in the 1988
H: No, the Olympic Trials.
P: Trials. You did not make the team in 1988?
H: No. I got sixteenth in the 100 freestyle and I think twenty-fifth in the 50. I
did not even swim the 200 yet.
P: So your performance changes dramatically in four years. Why is that?
H: Just getting older, getting stronger, getting better, training harder, learning
more. You just keep getting better and better. I had such strong goals,
hopes, and aspirations and just constantly kept working and working.
P: That was a good experience for you though--to go to the trials and see
what it was like?
H: Oh, yes. To go to the trials and see what it was like and just to be in awe.
P: You are over that. Then you have enough big meets, world
championships, and all of that before you get to 1992. Then in 1992 you
were a very seasoned, experienced swimmer. Obviously, that makes a
P: That fourteen year old opponent, had she been a little better on her turns,
might have done better. The question I have is, is there any limit to swim
times? They keep coming down. I read that in Atlanta, there were 267
national records, twelve Olympic records, and four world records. No
swimming mark set before 1980 has survived. Do you see four years from
now that the times are going to be even lower, even faster?
H: I think some of them will. There is going to be a point where you just
cannot get any faster. There are times that are just impossible. But they
are going to drop, they are going to keep coming down in little bits at a
time. Maybe some of them will have bigger drops, like in the distance
events. I think unless there is some major breakthrough or some weird
scientific stuff goes on, there will be a point when the times will plateau.
But the swimmers are up and down. Maybe one year people are
swimming right on the best times ever and then maybe the next year the
winning time is not that fast.
P: But you see, as we talked about earlier, [there is] a lot of new technology in
swim suits and [then there is] pool design, better nutrition, and different
training methods. Obviously, we look at athletes now who have just 2
percent body fat and things like that. Clearly, that is going to give these
athletes an edge.
H: The thing is that it is not going to give them that much of an edge.
Nutrition is only going to help you so much and swimsuits can only help
you so much. You are talking about swimsuits that make tenths of a
difference, not a big deal.
P: So you do not see them coming down significantly?
H: I do not know. I do not know what the limit will be, whether it is going to be
four seconds in the 100. In the women's 100 free right now, I do not know
how much faster anybody can swim. The world record was set by a
Chinese woman who, I will pretty much say on my own, is on steroids.
That time right there is even almost untouchable. I think one day
somebody clean [without steroids] will probably go faster, but it is going to
be a while.
P: How do steroids help?
H: [They] make you stronger for one. A lot of the steroids that they take allow
you to recover faster so that you can train at a higher level. You can train
harder and more intensely. Everyone has their limits and you can only
work so hard before you kind of crash or you have to recover. With some
of the steroids, you can just keep going and going, and keep training.
P: Should they be legalized?
P: Why not?
H: It is not fair, for one, because there will be some people who do them and
some people who do not. They are bad for your body. Regardless of
whether you have that gold medal or that world record, maybe you have a
deformed child or maybe you develop cancer. Who wants that? How
much does that gold medal mean to you then?
P: A lot of people, like Ben Johnson [a Canadian sprinter who won the gold
medal, but it was found later that he had used steroids], have done that.
They see that as such a tremendous reward, they are willing to take that
chance. The Chinese women did not do as well this year, did they?
P: Their times before had apparently improved dramatically. That would be
the difference. There could be something similar to steroids that would not
be harmful that might improve people's capacity to swim or lung capacity.
You know science is so extraordinary, you never can rule out those kinds
H: I guess I just come from the old school where [the philosophy is to] put a
suit, cap, and goggles on and make them work hard, find them a pool, and
let them race. I think so much of the science stuff takes away from the
P: You have traveled, literally, all over the world and come in contact with
different cultures and different people, and you started at a fairly young
age. How has that impacted your life?
H: It has made it richer, I think. I have seen what different cultures are like
and [I have] made friends from all over the world who I keep in touch with.
I think it has made me more tolerant to people in general. It is a great
experience. In my eighteen years of swimming, I have traveled to more
places than most people will do in a lifetime. I feel very privileged. I think
that is one of the exciting things. Swimming has given me so much more
than just records, times, and medals. It has let me make friends, meet
different people, and learn about myself-- things that are irreplaceable.
P: So some of your fonder memories are as much about the travel and the
friends as the sport?
H: Yes, and the fun.
P: Let me ask you a couple of questions about coaching at Florida. Talk to
me about the firing of Mitch Ivey. What was the circumstance here?
H: Basically, prior to coaching at Florida, way back, he married one of his old
swimmers. I guess people did not like that. Here, he was accused of
sexually harassing swimmers. Really what happened was ESPN decided
to do a story called "Outside the Lines" and they decided to do it on Mitch
and some other guy. They started dredging up this stuff from his past,
which the University of Florida already knew about. It had been made
clear when he was hired and it was OK. Then ESPN decides to do this
story and they just make it look awful. They talked to these people who
would not even show their face on camera. This woman who he married
was very vindictive and just out to get him. She said a lot of terrible things.
Then there was another swimmer who swam for him here my freshman
year who was kicked off the team and she said that she vowed to get him.
She was on there and made lots of bad comments about him on the show.
Basically, I think the university screwed up in not, from the second it
started, standing up and saying we support Mitch, we know about these
things already, he is doing a wonderful job, that is the end of it. They did
not do that. [They said], no comment, blah, blah, blah. They brought in
lawyers and had them question every single one of us. I felt that the
questioning was very one sided. If I said anything that was negative like,
yes, he has cussed, or, yes, he has said a dirty joke, they would be writing
furiously. All the wonderful things I said, they never once wrote down.
P: Was there sexual harassment?
H: Not anything that I am aware of. Nothing ever happened to me. It was
very unusual that the sixteen girls on the team, all sixteen of them, wanted
him to stay and did not want him to be fired.
P: Why do you think they fired him?
H: I do not know, I really do not know. It is such a huge story and there are
so many little things that I could get into, but it is really not important. I
think there was a lot of little scheming going on by certain people in the
P: Certainly, he had been a successful coach.
P: That was not an issue. Maybe it was public pressure and the times
because that was a national issue and people were concerned about it, as
they should be. Maybe they just decided they did not want to take the
heat. It might be that simple. At one point, you all were thinking about
boycotting the swimming?
H: We had our very first swim meet of the season right after he was officially
fired. I think we had talked about not going to the meet or something.
But we decided that that would be stupid, so we swam in it. We had a
very unhappy group of ladies.
P: That was what year?
H: That was the fall of 1993.
P: That did not affect your swimming from then on?
H: I think it did.
P: In terms of your commitment?
H: Yes. Mitch and I were super close. I was kind of like his swimmer. I
believed so much in everything he did and everything he said. He knew
me so well. He knew exactly how to train me, exactly what to say to me to
get me to do something. It is very rare that you can find that with
somebody else. The coach that took over was completely opposite. It
was pretty hard for me.
P: Had he stayed on, might you have competed in the 1996 Olympics?
H: Well, you cannot really say. I think that things would have been different.
I know I never would have gone to Colorado, for one. I probably would
have had better meets after 1992. When he got fired, things were starting
to really get rolling again with me. I was doing real well in practice and I
was on the right track with my weight. Then everything came crumbling
P: So psychologically that was a really hard blow to you?
P: What made him a good coach?
H: The question you asked about how do you motivate people--he had it down
to a science. He knew exactly what to say to you to get you to do
anything. Everything he said to me, like, I believe you can do this, or if
you go out in this time, your final time will be this. There were three or four
times that I can think of that he told me exactly what to split and exactly
what my time would be and to the tenth. I was there, so I believed in what
he said 100 percent.
P: [He was a] strong reinforcement.
H: Yes. I had such respect for him, everybody did. There was a little bit of
fear, but it was such a strong respect.
P: For his skill, his knowledge, or as a person?
H: Both I think. Practices were serious. He was very good at bringing
swimmers who really did not have that much promise and really were not
that great to do great things. When you got to practice, you knew it was
serious. You did what you were supposed to be doing. When he said
something is fast, everybody went fast. Not like I see today where you tell
them to go fast, and they decide whether they want to or not. I wish that I
had the opportunity to coach with him a little bit. I wish that I had been
able to swim for him longer just to have learned more from him.
P: As a coach you try to emulate some of the qualities he had?
P: The key to his success is really motivation rather than technique or
H: After the training is over with you can only do so much, then it is totally
mental, it is totally up to you. He was so good at that. I think that was a
huge part of his success. He had a lot of crazy training philosophies and
we did a lot of really unusual stuff, a lot of really hard stuff. There was a
reason for everything. There was a reason behind every set. As a
swimmer you knew that, so it gave you a lot of confidence.
P: You cannot just go and swim set after set, pushing the ball and doing some
other aerobics, you have to change things around. It helps your
conditioning, you would get bored swimming lap after lap after lap. What
do you do to get rid of the boredom?
H: I was a cerebral swimmer. I was always thinking about something when I
swimming, whether it was my stroke, or where my head was when I was
breathing, or my kick, or rotating. I always tried to do that. Of course,
some days I would be singing the last song I heard on the radio or counting
down--oh, we only have two more laps. I tried to use my time to my
advantage because it is silly to waste all that time because you are putting
a lot of time into it. Not everybody does that. It definitely gets boring
sometimes, just as anything does.
P: The NCAA has reduced training times, is that right?
H: Yes. You can only be held responsible for twenty hours a week of
mandatory hours of training, which is not enough, so the rest of the training
is voluntary. They volunteer a lot [smile].
P: You can still be there as a coach to help them, it is just that they cannot be
required [to be there]? So in effect it is meaningless?
P: How many hours [a week] do you work them now, literally?
H: I would say thirty hours.
P: That is almost a full-time job. That is about what you trained, about thirty
hours per week?
H: Yes, with Mitch, sometimes more. We had some pretty long sessions.
When I was in Colorado, it was about of six hours a day training, so that is
thirty hours and then Saturday. It would be thirty-three, thirty-four [hours].
P: That is a fascinating process because you see in almost every sport people
who have been training, particularly individual sports like ice skating or
gymnastics. Elfi [Schlegel] started at five and did six to eight hours every
day and had no regrets. She had some frustrations, but basically loved it.
It is hard sometimes to look back and see how much time and effort that
you put into one race that takes two minutes.
H: I know. It is amazing.
P: It is amazing to me.
H: It is like, why can you not just do it for a year or a month? It is kind of
crazy when you think about it.
P: But the commitment is significant. Most people cannot commit to anything
with that kind of hard work and real goal setting. Why is it that some
people can do that and some cannot? Why could you do that?
H: I think you are born with some of it. I think you are born with a competitive
nature. That is probably one of the biggest things that you have to have.
I do not think you can really become a competitive person. It is just that
you either have it or you do not. A lot of it, I think, you learn in your
upbringing--how your parents raise you. Do they teach you hard work or
is that just something you have or you never have it? I do not know.
Obviously, talent plays a role, but a lot of talented people do not do
anything with it. Then a lot of people who are not so talented work super
hard. What I accomplished, I lived it day in and day out. It was a dream,
and everybody has dreams, but I lived the dream. It was not like I could
just hope that one day I would go to the Olympics. It takes a lot more than
that and you have to realize that. You maybe make Junior Nationals and
then all of a sudden you make Senior Nationals and you get there and it is
like a whole new world. Junior Nationals is a joke, Senior Nationals is
wow. Making Senior Nationals to actually making a national team where
you travel and compete internationally, that is night and day also. With
every step I took, my eyes were getting wider and wider just realizing how
much I had ahead of me and how hard it is. That is one of the things with
the freshmen on the team. I want to tell them, do you not realize, OK,
maybe you are winning this dual meet or maybe you are second in this
event, but this is nothing compared to when you walk into SECs or NCAAs.
[The freshmen swimmers at UF] are going to be in for a shock.
P: But is it not hard as you are training seven hours a day at age fourteen to
see the end?
P: But you get individual awards as you go--the Junior and then the
Senior--so you see you are making progress so that reinforces your drive.
H: Are you talking about the end being the Olympic gold medal?
H: That is one of the things that keeps you going is knowing that is what you
are trying to do. Sometimes it may get frustrating because it seems so far
away or you have so much more to do, but that is the fun of it.
P: Do you have any regrets?
H: I do not have any regrets. I wish that the end of my career had been a
little bit better. Some days I will think about it a lot and I will kind of get
depressed about it. Then I always have to check myself because how
many people end their career on a good note? If you are on a good note,
then you want to keep it there. I guess most people retire from a sport
when things are not going well. I guess I have to look at it that way. If I
were still winning medals and still swimming best times, then I would not
have retired. So I do not have any regrets. There will be days where I
will remember something that I did that I just completely forgot about and I
will say, wow, you should be really proud of yourself, or, that is pretty
amazing. When I was competing, I used to be so nonchalant about
everything, like, oh, well, thanks. [I think it] was good because you do not
want to be too high and mighty and you have to keep yourself in reality.
Now I think it is all right for me to be proud of what I have done and to
actually pat myself on the back for it. Now that it is over with and I can
reflect on it. I do that more often, not really vocally to anybody, but just to
myself, which is what matters anyway.
P: Exactly. And you talk about being a perfectionist, and when you look back
on your career, while you did not do everything you wanted to do, nobody
does, you must have a lot of satisfaction in what you did accomplish. Your
record is really amazing. When you think about all the swimmers who
compete in all these meets, and most of them never get to even the bottom
level of finishing third in the SECs, that is an accomplishment. When you
add that to the national and the international--the Olympics--it
demonstrates that you used your talent and I think people must have some
sense of satisfaction for that because all of us have seen wasted talent.
H: That is the worst thing in the world.
P: You now see what I see. I see students who will not work who are bright,
who are capable, who could be lawyers and doctors, who could do
wonderful things. They do not want to work, they are lazy. It is
frustrating. Now you get to see a little bit of that.
H: Yes, we have people on our team now who are good swimmers but they
could be so much better and they just do not want to do it. That is my
question--how do you make them do it?
P: Sometimes you cannot. Nicole, thank you very much.
H: Thank you.