2008-09 Bootleg Honor Roll No. 1: Julia Smit

During the months of June and July, we are releasing the 10 winners of this prestigious award, one by one. Our first announced member of The Bootleg's 2008-09 Honor Roll is swimmer Julia Smit.

In a May 29 article, we released the 30 finalists for The Bootleg Honor Roll award for the 2008/2009 school-year.

The criteria are as follows:

Each academic year, The Bootleg's Honor Roll will recognize the top ten Stanford student-athletes who have performed at an exceptional level, with athletic accomplishments that are both extraordinary and inspirational. While achieving athletic success, these athletes should also have displayed uncommon leadership, sportsmanship and respect towards their fellow teammates and opponents. Finally, these honorees' performances and actions should also demonstrate their love for their particular sport as well as their school pride, the famed "Spirit of Stanford."

During the months of June and July, we are releasing the 10 winners of this prestigious award, one by one. Our first announced member of The Bootleg's 2008-09 Honor Roll is swimmer Julia Smit.

Here at The Bootleg headquarters, We're under strict instructions not to rank-order our lists, as all 10 Honor Rollees are equally impressive. But to paraphrase George Orwell, some athletes are more equal than others. So I will follow the rules, but let's just say that if we had an Honor Roll draft I would take Julia Smit about as quickly as Jim Harbaugh snapped up Andrew Luck before football's intrasquad scrimmage this past spring.

Indeed, Smit's two individual national titles this past season make her a no-brainer for inclusion on our Honor Roll. She set an American and NCAA record with her 400 IM swim of 4:00.56 in the NCAA Finals, and her 1:52.79 in the 200 IM lowered her American and NCAA record. She entered the season with an incredible 12 All-American awards, and by the time the rising senior finishes her Stanford career in nine months' time, Smit could well set a Stanford record for All-American honors won – putting herself atop a list with some pretty prestigious names on it.

Then, of course, there's the matter of this quadrennial gathering known as the Olympic Games. Just qualifying for the Games from the world's best swimming country probably makes Smit one of the ten best swimmers at her event in the world. Because the Olympics strictly caps the number of swimmers from one nation allowed to qualify for each individual event, some say it's harder to make it through the American trials than it actually is to make the Olympic finals. Smit didn't qualify as an individual, but she swam well enough that she earned a ride to Beijing as part of two relay teams – the 400 free and the 800 free. She swam in the preliminary rounds of both events, and that participation earned her a silver and a bronze medal, respectively, upon her teammates' swim in the event finals.

The Honor Roll isn't just about athletic accomplishment, however, and Smit is on this list for all the right reasons as well. Swimming, women's swimming especially, isn't a glory sport (though the sport is trying to expand its footprint in the US on the heels of Michael Phelps' successes). That Smit "only" swam in the Olympic preliminaries means there was no face time to be gained, no Wheaties contracts to sign, no tears of joy to shed on Oprah's couch. So clearly, it was a genuine love of the game that brought Smit to Beijing in the first place. That's earnest enough, but, in this author's opinion, what happened after the closing ceremony was more telling of Smit's character. There were four years before another Olympics, no money to be made in the mean time, nothing left to prove at Stanford, where Smit had already won an NCAA Championship and no sense of urgency – as Smit still would have one year left on the Farm. Yet Smit didn't let herself relax, didn't burnout despite just completing her most demanding season yet – and her two national titles and American record this winter served notice of a mental stamina every bit as real – and every bit as extraordinary -- as its physical counterpart.

Julia Smit is literally of the best athletes in the world right now at her sport. While I know full well just how talented the Stanford student body is, there aren't too many folks in Stern Dining who can honestly say that. So Julia, we salute you as our first winner of The Bootleg's 2008/09 Honor Roll.


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