Before leaving for today’s EISL championships on Long Island, junior swimmer Mike Smit sat down with Sun Senior Writer Per Ostman and became so rattled that he forgot to pack his swimsuit. Seriously. His girlfriend had to overnight it to him.
1. You’re dating last week’s victim, Jessica Brookman. I think you guys are the first couple I’ve ever interviewed. Do you feel honored?
Yeah, I think it’s pretty funny, actually. I saw your email and she was sitting next to me when I read it.
I didn’t know what to say.
I find the best thing to do when dealing with women is to say as little as possible.
Are you guys competitive with each other? You’re both successful athletes in the same sport.
I’d say we are in a fun way. It never gets real serious.
Fun as in “arguing over the remote control?”
Sometimes. We talk about swimming a lot.
You don’t say. She told me that she’s been Tompkins Trust Company Athlete of the Week twice, but you’ve only been once.
We argue about that sometimes. But it’s all in good fun.
Who’s the better swimmer?
Oh, I don’t think I can comment on that.
Are the two of you pretty equal, then? Or are you “Mr. Jessica Brookman?”
No, I wouldn’t say that.
Really? Who wears the bathing suit in this relationship?
I’d like to say that I do, but I’m sure that she does sometimes, too.
You’re being so careful here that it’s hilarious.
You’re right [leans in and shakes finger], I am.
Okay, then you guys are more or less happy-go-lucky? You aren’t the insanely competitive couple from Best In Show?
You know, with the stuffed animal and the dog? Remember?
No, not really.
Have you ever seen the movie?
You’ve never seen Best In Show???
No, but my roommate says it’s really good.
Well, when you see it, this part of the interview will seem funnier.
2. You hold school records in the 200-yard, 500-yard, and 1,000-yard freestyle, and you just set the record for the 200-yard fly. Why are you so good?
I don’t know. I’ve been swimming since I was eight, so I’ve been practicing since I was eight. It’s been pretty much all I’ve done.
So, it’s just practice time? Is there any natural talent in there?
My dad was a swimmer.
He swam his whole life. He’s actually from the Netherlands, so he swam there and almost qualified for the Olympics for them.
Do you swim the same events as he did?
I think he swam the sprint butterfly and the middle freestyle, so yeah. Pretty much the same.
Seems like you have some good genes. Was your mom an athlete?
Mom couldn’t swim.
It’s all your dad, huh?
Thanks, mom. So, some of your talent is genetic and some of it is hard work. Do you feel like you’re “the best?” You’re one of the better male swimmers we’ve ever had at Cornell. Do you ever think about this?
I think about it sometimes, but most people don’t really know much about swimming, so we don’t get anywhere near the kind of publicity.
Well, that’s what I’m here for. What drives you to be great?
The coaches are pushing for me and the team is pushing for me too, but if I have a bad meet or something, they’re not going to feel sorry for me. I’ll be the one getting pissed at myself. I don’t want kids beating me who shouldn’t be beating me. That’s what really gets me going.
Does every loss hurt? Or just the ones where you lose to those kids that shouldn’t beat you?
See, in college swimming a lot of it is about winning. For swimming at Nationals, it’s more about times. So, it’s different. I like it in college because it’s focused on winning the dual meets. If I’m swimming at Nationals, then it’s an individual and not a team sport, so setting my personal best time and not winning is great for me. But if I’m in a dual-meet and I swim close to my best time and someone touches me out and I lose, then that’s terrible. I hate that.
Do you feel pressure to continue having success, to continue to be the best?
Where does that come from?
I think it’s myself more than anything.
You’re your biggest critic?
I guess so. I’m sure my girlfriend would give me a hard time if I didn’t do very well.
Would she break up with you if you lost?
Well, she threatens it a lot, but I think she’s joking.
Listen buddy, there are no jokes. Don’t lose.
3. What’s your favorite stroke?
At the moment it’s the 200 fly. I just started swimming it this year.
So, it’s your favorite because it’s new and different?
Yeah. Before this year, my best time in the fly was 1:57. I’ve gone 1:48 already this year.
Has Jessica been helping you with your stroke? She just won an Ivy title.
We actually haven’t swum together. We don’t practice together.
But, you presumably have contact with her outside of swim practice, correct? Does she give you pointers? She tells me that it’s “all in the hips.”
Maybe a little. I like to think that I have a better stroke than her, though.
Yeah, she’s not going to like that one.
You’ve just insulted your girlfriend’s hips in a national publication. Well done.
I’m getting in trouble.
What’s your favorite distance?
I definitely like the short ones better, just because –
They’re over faster?
Yeah, they’re over quick. In a longer race, you’ve just got to keep yourself going mentally for that much longer.
You’d rather not think about it?
Yeah, my freshman year I swam the 1,000, but I’m out of that now. I max out at 500.
You don’t swim the 50?
I could, but I think I’m better at the middle distances.
But isn’t the 50 the glamour event? Isn’t this where the Gary Halls and Alexander Popovs of the world come out to play?
I’d like to think that the glamour is moving towards the 200, but I don’t know how true that is.
It’s just in your mind, and that’s all that counts.
4. Are you going to take a shot at Beijing?
It’s always in the back of your mind. I can’t make any guarantees because you never know what is going to happen. I still need to get a lot faster.
How close are you to the times you need for U.S. Trials?
Actually, for my last trials meet, I swam an extra meet after our championships and I missed the trials cut by .3 seconds. That was tough.
You’ve still got another year of college to go. You’ve got all the time in the world to make that up.
Yeah, I definitely want to try. We’ll see what happens next year first, and then I’ll decide if I want to swim another year or not.
You’ve been swimming since you were eight, so is there a risk of burning out?
I don’t see that happening anytime soon, really. A lot of the guys who swim at the Olympic level, especially the shorter distances, are like 26 or 27.
You’re not worried about getting tired of all the training? Waking up at 4 a.m.?
Oh, man. Waking up in the morning is tough, but I enjoy it.
5. Do you enjoy watching Olympic swimming?
I do. You don’t get to see that very much – just real fast swimming. There are certain events in dual meets that I’ll win, but the Olympic guys would beat me by five seconds.
You’d be like one of the swimmers from Norway getting waked down in the outside lanes.
Do you have a favorite memory from watching the Olympics?
When Michael Phelps was in his first Olympics; I guess it was his 200 butterfly. He was behind. Was that Sydney?
I think so. He was just a kid.
Yeah, he was young. He was way behind at the 100 and he came back and almost won.
Have you ever been in that position?
All the time. I swim like that on purpose, actually.
Really? You negative split it?
Oh, yeah. I’ll swim right with the guy or be a little bit behind him. And then in the last 50 I’ll turn it up a notch.
I love it.
My coach doesn’t, though.
See, I think it’s hilarious. You’re toying with them. That’s gamesmanship. Do they get out of the pool and want to kill you?
Yeah, I think so. Me and one of my friends from my club at home invented a name for it. We call it “The Red Line.”
The Red Line? Where does that come from?
There was a red line on the bottom of our pool, and that’s where we turned it on.
Who’s your favorite swimmer?
I don’t think I have a favorite swimmer, actually, because I feel like I’m racing everybody. They’re all competition.
6. Does your team divide up into cliques by the different strokes? Do all the freestylers hang out together? Do you guys hate the backstrokers?
Kind of. We actually have what we call the “A” squad and the “B” squad. The “A” squad is the guys who swim middle distance and distance, and the “B” squad is all the sprinters.
Are they not as good as the rest of you?
I wouldn’t say that, but we feel like they just float around in practice. The don’t really do anything.
So they’re the JV?
But the division isn’t by strokes? The breaststrokers don’t hang out by themselves?
No, we’re pretty close.
Okay, then can you give me a word to describe the kind of guys who swim each stroke?
Well, for the freestyle swimmers, we’re mostly distance. So, we’re all pretty crazy. And the sprinters are just lazy – that’s just how it works. And the other strokes are kind of in the middle.
What about the breaststroke? Why would anyone start swimming breaststroke in the first place?
I don’t know. I’ve never really been a breaststroker.
Is Jessica okay with this?
Um, I don’t know.
You didn’t even see that one coming, did you?
No, I didn’t.
7. Why aren’t you or any of your teammates sporting the Mark Spitz Memorial mustache?
Well, a couple of the guys haven’t shaved in about a month for championships, but I can’t handle that. I can’t handle too much hair.
What does it feel like when you shave your legs?
I kind of like it. I’m not going to lie.
Is it silky smooth when you rub them together?
Oh, yeah. It’s soft. It’s different. I like it. Is that weird?
No, it’s not weird at all.
Okay, now, do you use a women’s razor?
I have before.
And it works well. But I just got that new Gillette Fusion-
Oh my God, that’s the greatest invention since indoor plumbing! I love it.
Yeah, I’ve tried it on my face, and it feels good.
It’s amazing! It’s a religious experience! I had the other one, the Mach 3 vibrating thingamajig, and I thought it was the top of the line. But the Fusion blows it out of the water.
It feels so good!
I can’t believe it’s that close!
I can’t wait to use it on the rest of my body!
Yeah, have you tried that yet? I’ll bet it’s sublime.
Oh, it’ll be great.
I’d pay upwards of $100 for it. It’s that good. Now, when you say “body,” do you mean your entire body? Arms, legs, etc?
Close. It’s pretty much everything. Arms, legs, and armpits – gone.
But this is only for the big meets, right?
Yeah, only about twice a year.
How difficult is it to shave your armpits? They’re concave, for crying out loud.
I know! I have a real hard time with that. I don’t know how girls do it all the time.
Neither do I.
And it’s nothing to them. They shower for 10 minutes and they’re done shaving.
Well, it sounds like you know some girls that I don’t, but okay.
But it takes me like two hours to shave my entire body. It’s not fair.
Do you ever walk out all covered in blood? Do you hack yourself to pieces?
I used to, but now I’m better.
When it grows back, does the itching make you want to die?
Oh, yeah. Especially because we have the real tight suits around your legs, and you get real bad razor burn.
How do you deal with this? Do you apply lotion? What kind of products do you use?
Do you use regular facial shaving cream, or do you go for the fancy-girlie-smells-good-glitter crap?
I go regular. I like the gel.
Not a foam guy?
I like the foam on my face.
What’s more difficult: shaving your legs, or shaving your face?
Shaving your legs is actually pretty easy.
I knew it! I’ve been saying this for years, but girls seem to want to defend leg-shaving to the death.
It can get a little hard around the knees, though.
Yeah, but that’s nothing like the chin or the Adam’s Apple. I’m waiting for a girl to shave her face and prove me wrong.
No, you’re right.
You realize we’ve just alienated every female reader on campus, right?
Yep. But it’s alright.
8. I know you guys all wear the Fast Skin suits now, but don’t you miss the icy grip of the Speedos? Weren’t those the good old days?
No, I’ve gotten over them. I don’t really mind.
You like the Fast Skin better, then?
A lot better.
Why? They’re just bicycle shorts! They have no cachet.
Yeah, but they’re not as constricting, I guess you could say.
That becomes a problem, eh?
Would you ever wear a Speedo to the beach? Have you already?
No, I haven’t.
Would you? Even just as a joke?
Yeah, probably. Why not, right?
Spring Break, man. I’m telling you.
In the summer I train outside. And you always get the weird tanlines from the shorts.
You should try rowing. When you strap those unisuits up, you tan like you’re wearing a sports bra.
9. Who wins in a fight between a swimmer and a diver?
The divers just stretch on the side of the pool.
They don’t really do anything, do they?
No. They just stretch and jump into the pool a couple of times.
They’re worse than the sprinters, then?
Oh, yeah. By far. But they work hard, too. Kind of.
Kind of, but not really? Tell me how you really feel.
No, I can’t make them feel bad.
They’re fragile creatures?
[Laughs] They are. But, they’re very important to our team. We wouldn’t win any meets without the divers.
So, they’re to be tolerated? Seen, but not heard?
[Laughs] I guess so! No, I mean, we have some cool divers. I like them.
But you could kick their asses if you had to?
10. What’s the hottest women’s team at Cornell?
You mean besides the swim team?
No, I mean irregardless of the swim team.
I don’t really know many of the girls on the other teams.
She doesn’t let you get out much, does she?
Not at all!
You’re on the shortest of leashes, aren’t you?
But, if you weren’t whipped, you’d pick