Big Ten Senior Spotlight: Steve Schmuhl of Indiana University

The Indiana Hoosiers have a storied swimming and diving program and are well known for producing some of the best all-around swimmers both in collegiate and club swimming history. In recent years, talents such as Eric Ress, Cody Miller, and Sam Trahin developed into some of the most versatile swimmers in the country, and this year, it will be up to Broomfield, Colorado native Stephen Schmuhl to lead the Hoosiers into battle in championship season.

An already exceptionally talented swimmer before ever arriving in Bloomington, Indiana, Schmuhl carried a wealth of experience with him into his freshman year. An ex-Junior National meet record holder in the 200 yard free, Schmuhl also represented the United States at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. At these Games, Schmuhl placed 12th in the 100 back (57.64), 17th in the 200 free (1:53.81), and 5th in the 400 free relay (3:25.56).

As a freshman at IU, Schmuhl immediately factored into the Hoosier’s relays and individuals at the conference championships. At the 2012 Big Ten Championships, Schmuhl recorded finishes of 17th in the 200 fly (1:46.86), 42nd in the 200 free (1:39.56), and 34th in the 200 back (1:50.03) in his individual events. As a part of the Hoosiers’ relays, Schmuhl provided legs on the 200 medley relay (1:25.79, 4th) and 800 free relay (6:25.85, 4th).

Thanks to the automatic qualifying time that Indiana recorded in the 200 medley relay, Schmuhl was given the opportunity to compete again one month later at the NCAA Championships. At this meet, Schmuhl turned in individual performances of 40th in the 500 free (4:25.68), 34th in the 200 free (1:37.11), and 14th in the 200 fly (1:45.06, 1:44.44 in prelims). Notably, his performance in the 200 fly garnered himself All-American Honorable Mention honors for the first time in his career.

He was also very good on the Hoosiers’ NCAA relays, providing legs on the 400 medley relay (3:11.07, 13th), 200 medley relay (1:27.54, 1:27.10 in prelims), 22nd in the 400 free relay (2:59.15), and 17th in the 800 free relay (6:31.35).

The summer after his freshman year, Schmuhl had an outstanding season with Indiana’s club swim team. At the 2012 Olympic Trials, he had a breakout summer meet with an 11th place finish in the 400 IM (4:21.78), 30th in the 200 free (1:51.10), and 22nd in the 200 IM (2:03.33), all best times in the process. With his performance in the 400 IM, Schmuhl was selected as a part of the 2012 FINA World Short Course Championships roster for the United States, and he would place 12th with a 4:10.38 in Istanbul.

Carrying his momentum from club season into his sophomore year, Schmuhl really began to excel in the NCAA realm beginning with the 2012-13 season. At that year’s conference championships, contested in Bloomington, Schmuhl was an integral part of Indiana’s scoring charge. Individually, he turned in finishes of 4th in the 200 IM (1:43.65), 5th in the 400 IM (3:43.51, 3:42.70 in prelims), and 2nd in the 200 fly (1:43.55, 1:43.53 in prelims). Notably, his prelims performance in the 200 fly established a new school record in the process.

Another record would tumble in relay action as Schmuhl contributed the second leg on Indiana’s 800 free relay (6:19.68) that clipped the previous program record by two full seconds. Additionally, Schmuhl participated in both the 400 medley relay and the 400 free relay, though IU would unfortunately DQ in both events.

Having qualified for NCAAs both individually and as a part of the relays, Schmuhl improved across the board in his second trip to the national championships. He finished 5th in the 400 IM (3:42.41, 3:41.98 in prelims), 22nd in the 200 fly (1:44.61), and 23rd in the 200 IM (1:44.92) while also swimming legs on the Hoosiers’ 400 medley relay (3:08.40, 9th) and 800 free relay (6:23.31).  His prelims performance  in the 400 IM established a new school record, and the 400 medley relay also clipped the previous program record.

Schmuhl kept the ball rolling in the 2013-14 season, and he only continued to leave his sizable imprint on Indiana’s record books as the years progressed. At last year’s Big Ten Championships, Schmuhl recorded finishes of 3rd in the 200 IM (1:42.05), 3rd in the 400 IM (3:43.55, 3:43.36 in prelims), and 3rd in the 200 fly (1:43.33). His 200 fly struck down his own school record from the previous year. He played a limited role on relay duty at these championships, contributing the second leg on Indiana’s 4th placed 800 free relay (6:20.17), and his 1:33.91 split was the fastest amongst Indiana participants.

Clearly saving his best for NCAAs, Schmuhl recorded his best collegiate finishes at the NCAA Championships last March. Individually, he placed 4th in the 400 IM (3:40.64), 10th place in the 200 IM (1:43.17), and 7th in the 200 fly (1:43.17, 1:43.10 in prelims). Notably, both his 400 IM final swim and 200 fly prelim swim shattered his own school records from the previous year and previous month respectively. He also helped Indiana take 11th in the 800 free relay (6:21.88).

Outside of the pool, Schmuhl has accumulated All-Big Ten honors twice in his career (2012, 2013).

It truly is tremendous to examine Steve Schmuhl’s career in retrospect, and it goes without saying that he will leave the Hoosiers after this championship season as one of the most decorated athletes in program history. It is rare to find a Big Ten swimmer with such incredible versatility, and the Hoosiers will need Schmuhl to be very good this week if they intend to challenge Michigan and Ohio State in the team race. With his extensive big race experience and seemingly endless ability to go faster each year as some of his biggest assets, it is nearly impossible to predict how fast Schmuhl will go in his final championship season with the Hoosiers, but we can be confident in knowing that Indiana has one of their best in history at the helm this February and March.

Best Times (SCY/LCM):
200 Free: 1:35.44/1:49.52
500 Free/400 Free: 4:23.54/3:56.19
100 Back: 49.93/56.40
200 Back: 1:42.87/2:01.12
100 Fly: 49.23/54.32
200 Fly: 1:43.10*/1:58.64
200 IM: 1:42.05/1:59.90
400 IM: 3:40.64*/4:16.07
800 Free Relay: 6:19.68*

School Major Degree: Kelley School of Business, my majors are:
1. Marketing
2. Professional Sales
I have a minor in Finnic literature and culture.
Favorite Event: 200 fly
Favorite Hobby / Hidden Talent: Cooking
Favorite Movie: Planet of the Apes (1968), Rear Window or The Birds. I’m obsessed with 1960’s movies and Alfred Hitchcock is a favorite
Role Model Growing Up / Person You’d Like to Meet: My Dad, Larry Schmuhl / Khloe Kardashian
Favorite Food/ Pre-Race Meal:  Salmon / Spaghetti

At what age did you become involved with swimming? How did you get into it?

My identical twin brother, Tim, and I grew up both playing the same sports until we realized that any sport involving a ball….the ball was just going to hit me in the face. I was swimming and playing basketball in middle school and after several games of getting hit in the face with the ball and having to be removed from the court with a bloody nose, I decided to stop playing basketball.

I began swimming year-round when I was 11 and moved to a higher-level team when I was 12. I didn’t start to get serious in swimming until I was about 13. I absolutely hated it at first and would try any excuse to get out of practice.

What is your favorite collegiate swimming memory and why?

Swimming is not an easy sport and I’ve had such extreme ups and downs in my career that it’s hard to pick one race, or one time that I can say is my favorite. A particularly good memory that I have is B1G my sophomore year which was at home in Bloomington. We knew the whole year that the meet was going to be at home and it was just a really special moment having so many parents and fans there. It was also a great experience to share with our women’s team who was in the stands for almost every session. It was a unique competition because it had the excitement of a big meet, but we were at home in Bloomington, albeit sequestered in a hotel. I swam really well and set my first school record at that meet.

Like a handful of the other swimmers we have featured in the Senior Spotlight series, you have a bit of international swimming experience with your swims at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games and at the 2012 World Short Course Championships. How do you think those swims influenced your development as an elite collegiate swimmer, and do you feel like there has been a mutually beneficial relationship between international swimming and your NCAA career? 

Youth Olympic Games was an incredible experience. I wouldn’t change that for the world. Swimming in Singapore was not my first time swimming outside of the US, but it was my first time representing the USA. It was humbling and an honor to be part of something so special. The thousands of volunteers who made the event possible were ecstatic whenever they saw people in Team USA gear.

The World Championships were the crest of my swimming career. When I got the news that I had made the team, I was very surprised. I didn’t even know that I was in the running to make that sort of team. As special as the Youth Olympic Games were, the World Championships were that much and more. We had a police escort everywhere we went and it was surreal to be on a team with so much talent. My roommate was Garrett Weber-Gale and he acted as a great mentor for me during the competition. I felt like an outsider on the team because I didn’t know anyone before the trip and I was much younger than most of the guys—I was a teenager and the majority of the team was professionals.  Garrett could tell I was a little anxious and apprehensive and he helped calm my nerves before I swam. I placed 12th, which was higher than anyone including myself thought I would finish—especially since my coaches did not rest me very much.

Swimming internationally gave me a lot of experience that gave me an advantage when it came to collegiate competitions. It was really just a confidence boost and allowed me to view swimming with a new perspective. For me swimming is swimming….and a meet is a meet. I’m just trying to swim as fast as I can, whatever the length of the pool. My NCAA career and my international swimming career are one in the same. My coaching staff knew that I had aspirations to swim internationally and they were supportive when I had the opportunity to realize that dream.

You have demonstrated your prowess in the individual medley events repeatedly over the past few years, and last year saw you finish 10th and 4th in the 200 and 400 IMs respectively at the NCAA Championships. You’ve had plenty of talent within your team to train with over the years in these events, with standout breaststroker Cody Miller and elite backstroker Eric Ress supplementing your performances to help the Hoosiers at the conference and national level. Can you shed some light on what role the incredible level of talent that Indiana has assembled in recent years has played in your personal training?

It was quite the strange coincidence that last year Eric and I tied in the 200 IM and Cody was .01 behind us…..From the outside it would surely appear that we are training and racing together all the time. But this is actually not the case. I rarely trained with Cody or Eric. They were in our mid-distance group and I am in distance. I’ve even had semesters where I had to train by myself a few days a week.

I do not like training with boys so I will usually try to situate myself in a lane where I am surrounded by more girls than boys. I have a lot more fun in practice and swim faster when I am next to a girl and gossiping about what happened last night on the Real Housewives or The Bachelor than when I am next to a boy and the expectation is to be serious and engaged in swimming babble. My motivation is internal so if there is something I want to do, I am going to do it….it doesn’t matter who is in the lane next to me.

Despite not training together, Eric, Cody and I are great friends and were very competitive amongst each other when we were all on the team together and this would show in dual meets because I would always have to race at least one of them.

What/who do you think has been the single most important catalyst to your swimming career?

The most important person in my swimming career has been my coach Mike Westphal. I am not an easy athlete to coach and he is really the only one who has supported me here. I’m grateful that he has had the patience to work with me and taken the time to try to figure me out. He is responsible for developing me into the swimmer that I was in college and pushing me to the next level. Without him there is no way I could have achieved the things that I have.

Do you have any plans/commitments following the completion of your collegiate career?

This will definitely be my last season. I have two semesters left of school but I’m very burned out on swimming. My passion for the sport has dwindled to almost nothing while I’ve been in college. I have struggled to enjoy swimming for years and it is time for me to retire. I’m looking forward to moving on from swimming and finding something new that excites me. I’ll have a completely different life and that is an exhilarating feeling.

What should we look forward to from Indiana as a whole at this year’s Big Ten Championships?

I think that the one thing to look forward to from Indiana at B1G is our underclassmen. It will be exciting watching what the new faces of Indiana swimming can accomplish. We are ushering in a new era…the team is quite different from when I first got here and it’s time for there to be some new stars now that Eric, Cody, James and I have moved on. I’m particularly excited to watch our newest divers….We have a transfer double NCAA Champion and an Australian Olympian who finished just out of the medals in London.

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This is a great article! This series really gives us fans a better look at the swimmers. I love how you can see his personality in his answers. He seems to be very articulate. GO HOOSIERS!


Steve are you serious? You mean Yianni, the snake, and I never supported you?


Steve has really shown what IU swimming is all about, he is a god among men.


This other Derek is blowing things out of proportion, I was obviously his biggest supporter (This is Nick Scwaab). #CharkOn

About Varun Shivakumar

Varun Shivakumar hails from Hoffman Estates, IL and swam competitively for 16 years. He swam both backstroke events at Northwestern University, and ranks fifth in the school’s All-time performances list in the 200 yard backstroke. Representing NASA Wildcat Aquatics, he also competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials in Omaha, NE …

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