Leah Smith: 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist Swimmer

Through our friend and recent WCW Emily Sonnett, we were fortunately put into contact with gold medalist swimmer Leah Smith. I know! Trust me, we were shocked that Sonnett had such a cool friend. Leah Smith is a BALLER. Not only did she answer all of our questions with thoughtful, inspiring answers, but she’s one of the funniest, coolest, most down to earth people we have spoken to. Basically she’s a boss. We're like already drooling. 

Just to get this out of the way now, Leah is a Pittsburgh native. Obviously, we asked her how she felt about the Steelers brutal loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game a couple of weeks ago. While she was disappointed that her team lost, she was a good sport about it. “I was hoping that this was the year that the stairway to seven (rings) would happen, but unfortunately the Patriots did not allow that. However, I am still very proud them.” Leah was able to attend two home games in Pittsburgh this year, which is more than I can say for us at Sporting Chic, who only made it to one Patriots game. Nonetheless, Steph is going to the Super Bowl in Houston this weekend and at least we made it to the ship (sorry not sorry, Steelers.)

Leah also went to Rio this summer for the Olympics with Team USA (NBD) where she won a gold medal in the 4x200m relay and a bronze medal in the 400m freestyle. She shared one of her favorite Olympic moments with us. “My roommate and I were so excited for the meet to start, and we were both on the same schedule for racing, with our first race on day 2. The night before the meet started we ate dinner together in the dining hall and it kind of just hit us that we were about to swim in the Olympics. We got so giddy that when we left the dining hall we ran all the way back to our Team USA building shouting "WE'RE AT THE OLYMPICS!!" at everyone who we ran by. We just couldn't get over how cool it was that we were there.”

Leah currently is a senior at UVA, which just so happens to be where she met our girl, Sonny. They met when Sonnett asked Leah to take a picture of her (come on Sonnett, be more basic.) Leah, wanting to befriend the "cool" soccer player, told Sonnett that she was “totally nailing the skinny arm” in the photos. She obviously knew the way to Sonnett’s heart and they were instantly friends. That’s one of the things that Leah loves most about UVA- the athlete community. 

“I love having friends on so many other teams and feeling like I am at home pretty much anywhere I go. I think that is also why UVA Athletics is so successful- because we are all so close and are always rooting for each other.”

The other cool thing about Leah’s UVA career- she is a four-time NCAA individual champion. That’s the most by a Virginia student-athlete. Ever. In any sport. We know… casual.

Clearly, UVA is so much more to Leah than just a stepping stone to the Olympics. In fact, the two seem to go hand-in-hand. 

“The most rewarding moment of my swimming career was definitely the moment I touched the wall at Olympic Trials to qualify for my first Olympic Team and all of the moments that occurred right after making it. I had dreamed of making the Olympics since I was 10 years old, so finally making it was a very emotional and surreal moment. After I finished my post-race interview with NBC, I walked out of the media zone to find all 23 of my UVA teammates that were also at trials waiting there for me to give me a big group hug. After, I got to hug all of my coaches who helped me get there and it was awesome.”

Here's a video of the big huddle that happened right after the race. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQPRhfmXXmU 

We asked Leah about the specific races that she swims, including relays, like 4x200 that she GOLD MEDALED in this summer with teammates Katie Ledecky, Maya Dirado, and Allison Schmidt. 

“Relays are very challenging mostly because of the added pressure that swimming for your team or country brings. In college swimming, relays are double the points that an individual race would be. If you are in a tight battle with other teams for points, relays are very can be crucial. In USA Swimming, relays are the pride and joy of our country. It is how we showcase our dominance as a team, and it is the only time that an event is not individual. So I typically feel a lot of pressure because I know that there are 3 other girls depending on me to do my best. But that also means that there are 3 other girls who are so invested in my swim and can cheer me on the whole way.”

Relays are an interesting dynamic, especially when it comes to training. Some swimmers, like Leah, specialize in long distance swimming while other swimmers are sprinters. While there are some typical differences between practices for distance swimmers and sprinters, Leah says not all stereotypes are true.

“I think a lot of people generalize that distance swimmers are bad at lifting and that sprinters are great and they are ripped. There are distance swimmers on my team who have higher maxes in the weight room than some sprinters. Another stereotype would be that sprinters' practices are easier because they are shorter. Being that my longest race in college swimming is 66 laps and the typical sprint race is 2 or 4 laps, I can't say I disagree with that stereotype," she added with a wink. Some stereotypes are just based on reality!

Leah had a lot more to say about stereotypes, especially when it comes to female athletes.

“I think female athletes have the power to push back against the stereotypes that people might make about women's sports. Female athletes can show the world why women's sports are worth paying attention to. I look up to athletes like Katie Ledecky who are not afraid to smash barriers, and achieve things that were previously thought to be only attainable by men. I try to approach my swimming career in the same way, and I try to keep up with the guys on my team every day in practice.”

Now, like us, you guys are probably drooling over this girl and wondering, “Is she even human?” So just to keep things real, we decided to ask her some of the simplest, most human questions we could think of. Just to prove she’s real. (We still aren’t convinced.)

Favorite way to eat vegetables? 
I have recently started to love brussels sprouts, and my roommates and I like to cover them in spices and olive oil and then bake them in the oven for a bit.

Favorite leggings or sneakers?
Just bought a pair of Vince high-top suede sneakers that I love.

Go-to hairstyle?
Post-practice wet bun on top of my head

Favorite karaoke/singalong song?
Dancing in the Moonlight

Where are your Olympic medals right now?
Both are in a purse in my room and they are in these cool wooden cases we were given in Rio

Can you cook? How do you like your eggs?
I used to order these weekly meals from HelloFresh which helped me pretend like I knew how to cook, but now I just eat in our dining halls at school. I like my eggs in an omelet, but I often mess up the omelet they end up scrambled...

Favorite thing about your body?
My favorite thing would have to be my eyebrows. I would consider myself an eyebrow connoisseur, and my teammates always ask me to do theirs on team trips. #onfleek 

Least favorite thing about your body?
While I love my strong arms for the places they have gotten me (the Olympics), I do not love trying on tops with them.

Coffee order?
Venti Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew #basic

Check out this girls’ stats page on the UVA Athletics website. http://www.virginiasports.com/sports/c-swim/mtt/leah_smith_858279.html 

Her instagram is hilarious. You can also follow Leah on Twitter.