July 28, 2008
BERKELEY - CalBears.com spoke to Olympic veteran Hannah Wilson about competing in the 2008 Olympic Games for her native Hong Kong. A freshman this past season for the Cal women's swim team, Wilson earned honorable mention All-America honors in the 100-yard butterfly (53.02) and was part of the school record-setting 200-free relay that finished as the national runner-up at the 2008 NCAA Championships. In the 2004 Athens Olympics, she set a Hong Kong record of 57.33 in the 100-meter freestyle heats, in which she finished 34th out of 50 swimmers.
CalBears.com: In which events will you compete for Hong Kong at the Summer Games?
Wilson: "I qualified in the 50, 100 and 200 free, and the 100 fly, but I'm only going to swim the 100 free and 100 fly."
CalBears.com: What was the reception like in your hometown of Hong Kong after you set a national record at the 2004 Athens Games in the 100-meter freestyle?
Wilson: "There was a bit of a difference, not only in the public but also from school and just a different attitude. It was a mark that I and everyone hope I can improve on. For Hong Kong, the medal winners we had in table tennis were a massive deal, and it seemed like finally the respect for athletes has come through; whereas before, sports wasn't such a big deal over there. But when something does happen, they realize they have some great athletes."
CalBears.com: What has it been like to live in the United States, where you arrived in August 2007?
Wilson: "I'd visited here before, so I kind of knew what I was getting myself into. Luckily, just having San Francisco, which is something I can relate to, and being close to the sea, those little bits that remind me of home. Coming to Berkeley has been a great experience, because it's reality. It's not just a campus school, it's a town and you're out there. I love it over here, it's just been a great move. I do miss my family a lot and talk to them quite often using the webcam. My parents come to visit and do go home for competitions, so I see them a fair bit. I'm getting used to it now, this reality that I'm not going to see them every day anymore."
CalBears.com: What are the differences between the run-up to your last Olympic Games and the past four years through this past academic year at Cal?
Wilson: "I just feel a lot more confident than I did last time. Coming over here and then having to go back for my trials, I'd been in a different situation from other people back in Hong Kong. I knew that if I wanted their support for me being over here and not being there, then I had to prove that what I was doing was good for me and the right decision. So I went over there and I just said, `I'm going to do it.' I did my best performances over there and it was one of the first times I've actually performed well at home, so it was good."
CalBears.com: What has the experience been like finishing your first year as a member of the Cal women's swim team?
Wilson: "This team is amazing. I've never had a team before really at home. To come in here with a bunch of girls, it's just continuous support for each other. I've never had so many people just going for me and wanting me to do well and [make me] feel part of a swimming family. It's just great to have people that I can turn to. I finally feel like I'm at home here and having these people around me is the best thing."
CalBears.com: What are you looking forward to the most in Beijing?
Wilson: "Being in China and growing up there, it's close to my heart. I know that they're going to put on such a show. They're going to want to outdo everybody else. Being able to somehow to relate to them, it's just really nice to be in Asia, just makes things a little bit easier. I learned Mandarin for about 10 years and speak very little Cantonese. I'm trying to get back into it, but it's quite hard. I'm planning on taking it again while at Cal."
CalBears.com: What is your favorite Olympic memory?
Wilson: "In 2004, the Opening Ceremony was a memory I'll never, ever forget. But also, walking out on deck with cameras in my face and looking up at the crowd in the stands, I can't describe it in words - just this gut, internal feeling. Hopefully I'll get one of those reminders again."
CalBears.com: How have you responded to the academic challenges at Cal?
Wilson: "I think it's gone pretty well. I told myself I'm not the kind of person who has to get As all the time. I found my balance. If I want to do swimming and academics the best I can, I'm going to have to sacrifice a little bit of something. I think I've done a really good job on them both this year and hopefully can improve on them next year."
CalBears.com: Who are your biggest mentors?
Wilson: "The people who I really look up to are my parents, just for their continual support, driving me to morning training when I was at home, being there at meets, always just being there and supporting me no matter what. They left it up to me, it's my decision. 'You can give up now if you want to, that's your decision.' Just having that has really gotten me where I am. No pressure, it's all my decision and what I want to do."
CalBears.com: How did you first become interested in your sport?
Wilson: "It all started off as general swim lessons as a little kid, and the coach at the time told my mum 'She's going to be a swimmer.' My mum's like, 'What? No, no, I'm pretty sure she's not going to do that.' And it just kept going, kept going, and I went through the phase where I really didn't like it. I got back into it, and just didn't stop, just kept going."