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

USC’s Louise Hansson.
Louise Hansson’s senior season at USC was wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she’s hoping to represent Sweden at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

From college campuses that look like ghost towns to wide-open rush hour freeways, Louise Hansson watches from her L.A. apartment as a once bustling city shifts inward.

Free from classes or swim practice — cuts made necessary to quell the COVID-19 pandemic — Hansson speaks to her parents in Sweden five or six times a day, relaying just how much things have changed.

While L.A. is one of many U.S. cities under orders to stay at home amid the coronavirus outbreak, everyday life in their hometown of Helsingborg, Sweden, has yet to be greatly affected, the star swimmer’s parents tell her. Quarantine orders in the coastal city six hours south of Stockholm haven’t been called for and many schools still are open.

Hansson, a senior at USC, considers flying home to find a sliver of normalcy. She looks up flights. Then doesn’t buy them.

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She doesn’t know what to do.

“My head is just spinning,” she said five days after her college career was cut short.

Having already lost her opportunity to defend her NCAA titles in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly when the NCAA canceled its winter and spring championships on March 12, Hansson was still hoping she could swim for Sweden in the Tokyo Olympics. That goal is now delayed, because Olympic leaders postponed the Games until 2021 on Tuesday with the pandemic growing.

“There was always this little hope being like maybe I will get to do at least one thing that I had planned for the summer,” Hansson said Wednesday. “It hits a different way when it’s set in stone that it’s not happening.”

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The USC women’s golf team proved worthy if its No. 1 ranking when the coronavirus outbreak caused the season to be canceled.

The Games were originally scheduled to open July 24.

Hansson was one of six athletes across three sports selected in January for Sweden’s Olympic teams. The 23-year-old earned the opportunity by making the final at the 2019 world championships in the 100-meter butterfly, finishing seventh in her best event.

USC’s Louise Hansson competes at the 2019 NCAA championships.
USC’s Louise Hansson competes at the 2019 NCAA championships.
(Walt Middleton)

Tokyo would be Hansson’s second Olympics; she competed in four events as a 19-year-old in Rio de Janeiro. Her Swedish team finished fifth in the 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle relays. She finished 29th in the 200-meter individual medley and 32nd in the 100-meter butterfly.

It wasn’t a great performance, Hansson acknowledges. Nagging shoulder pain and the distraction of college waiting for her immediately after the Games put a damper on her first Olympic experience. She was looking forward to “doing it right” this time.

“There were a lot of emotions and a lot of nerves involved [in Rio] that definitely were messing with me,” Hansson said. “Having that in the back of my mind, knowing that I know what to expect is very calming.”

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

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A two-time NCAA 100-yard fly champion and one-time 200-yard winner, Hansson owns the NCAA record in the 100 and has the third-fastest NCAA time in the 200. Hansson owns USC records in the 100- and 200-yard fly, the 100- and 200-yard free and the 100-yard backstroke. She’s also part of four USC relay records: the 400 and 800 free and 200 and 400 medley.

Hansson said swimming collegiately was the “best decision I’ve made.”

“[In college] you have to step up and be ready to race and the times might not be the best, but it’s still always racing the best people,” she said. “I think that has made me a lot tougher not fearing the competition.”

She encourages every young swimmer in Sweden who asks her about college in the United States to explore their options. If it’s USC, even better, she said with a laugh. Competing as a team instead of 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 a lot of pressure always having to focus on me,” she said. “It was nice coming here and more having to focus on the team than myself, which made it easier to relax and enjoy in the moment.”

The moments she’ll miss 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, which were supposed to take place March 18-21. With no practices and classes exclusively online, the group won’t be together for the foreseeable future.

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She didn’t anticipate saying goodbye to them so soon, but when her parents called and said they wanted her home, Hansson finally bought the ticket. At home, she takes classes online, and her pool is still open. She works out every morning. She knows a time may come soon when she can’t.

“I think we’re all in the same boat,” Hansson said. “There’s no ideal way to prepare as of the situation right now.”


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