Her record-breaking USC career cut short, Louise Hansson holds on to her Olympic hope

From ghostly-looking college campuses to wide-open rush-hour highways, Louise Hansson watches from her L.A. apartment as a bustling city shifts inward.

Free of lessons or swimming exercises – cuts needed to quell the COVID-19 pandemic – Hansson speaks to her parents in Sweden five or six times a day and tells how many things have changed.

While LA is one of many U.S. cities that have been instructed to stay at home during the coronavirus outbreak, everyday life in Sweden is yet to be greatly impacted, the star swimmer’s parents tell her. There has been no lobbying for quarantine orders and schools are still open.

Hansson, a senior at USC, is considering flying home to find something normal. She searches for flights. Then never buy them.

She doesn’t know what to do.

“My head is just spinning,” she said five days after the sudden end of her college career.

Sheltered in her apartment with two roommates, Hansson is looking for something to look forward to in these uncertain times. She lost her chance to defend her NCAA titles in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly when the NCAA canceled the winter and spring championships on March 12.

She hopes to swim to Sweden during the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“I don’t really want to think about it,” said Hansson about canceling the Games. “That’s what keeps me motivated. … This is what we’ve trained for the past four years. Fingers crossed that it goes off, but everyone’s health and safety is paramount.”

With the growing pandemic, the pressure on Olympic leaders to cancel or postpone the Games has increased. Two days after the NCAA canceled its championships, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his country planned to host the Games as planned.

On Sunday, Olympic leaders said they would “intensify” discussions about the Games and expect to make a decision on postponement and other possible changes within four weeks. The opening ceremony is scheduled for July 24.

Hansson was one of six athletes in three sports who were selected for Sweden’s Olympic teams in January. The 23-year-old earned the chance by making it to the finals at the 2019 World Championship in the 100-meter butterfly and finishing seventh in her best event.

Louise Hansson of USC will compete in the 2019 NCAA Championships.

(Walt Middleton)

Tokyo is said to be Hansson’s second Olympic Games; At the age of 19 she participated in four events in Rio de Janeiro. Her Swedish team finished fifth in the 400 meter and 800 meter freestyle relay. She finished 29th in the 200m individual medley and 32nd in the 100m butterfly.

It was not a great achievement, Hansson acknowledges. Sore shoulder pain and the distraction from the university that was waiting for her immediately after the Games pressed her first Olympic experience. She was looking forward to “doing it right” this time.

“It involved a lot of emotions and a lot of nerves [in Rio] that certainly confused me, “said Hannson. “Having that in mind, knowing that I know what to expect, is very soothing for this year.”

Competing in college made Hansson a harder swimmer, she said. Four years later, she is more willing to swim on the largest stage in the world after becoming one of the most decorated swimmers in USC history: three NCAA titles, eight conference championships, and 12 All-American awards.

As a two-time NCAA champion of 100 yards and a one-time winner of 200 yards, Hansson holds the NCAA record in the 100 and has the third fastest NCAA time in the 200. Hansson holds USC records in the 100 and 200 – yard fly, the 100- and 200-yard free and the 100-yard backstroke. It is also part of four USC relay records: the 400 and 800 free and the 200 and 400 medley.

Hansson said collegiate swimming is the “best decision I’ve made.”

‘[In college] you have to go a step further and be ready to race and times may not be the best, but it still races against the best people, ”she said. “I think that has made it that much harder, without fearing the competition.”

She encourages every young swimmer in Sweden who asks her to go to college in the United States to explore their options. If it’s USC, even better, she said with a laugh. Competing as a team rather than as an individual was a valuable learning experience for Hansson.

Louise Hansson.

Louise Hansson is one of the most decorated swimmers in USC history.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

“It was always a lot of pressure to focus on me,” she said. “It was nice to come here and focus more on the team than on myself, making it easier to relax and enjoy the moment.”

The moments she will miss the most are those surrounded by her teammates. The Trojans had 10 swimmers and four divers who qualified for the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, scheduled to take place March 18-21. Without training and lessons exclusively online, the group will not be together in the near future.

She didn’t expect to say goodbye to them so soon. Now she is weighing options to travel home and be with her family. Hansson would not return until August. That would have been after the Olympics.

Now she has no idea.

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