Freshman swimmer Louise Hansson is always up for a challenge.
Ever since she was introduced to baby swim classes at the age of one, there has never been a task too difficult for the Sweden native. She’s won numerous medals at the junior and senior level in Europe, set national records in various events and even represented her home country this past summer at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
But instead of waiting around for the next Olympic cycle to come, Hansson wanted a change of scenery to help hone her skills. So she decided to come to a university in the United States in order to pursue an education and have the opportunity to swim competitively. She landed at USC — a school known for cultivating some of the world’s best international swimming talent — and has since continued that storied tradition in her impressive freshman campaign, setting numerous school records and leading the Trojans to a top-five ranking in the country.
However, not everything has been an easy transition for Hansson. In fact, she’s had to adjust to quite a bit since making the 5,574-mile trek from Helsingborg to Los Angeles. When she first arrived, Hansson was taken aback by the warm greetings and friendliness shown to her by Americans.
“In Europe, we don’t really talk to people we don’t know,” Hansson said with a laugh. “We’re a little more quiet and reserved compared to people in the States, so when I first got here, I was surprised to see so many random people saying, ‘Hi,’ to me and asking how I was doing.”
Los Angeles itself is also a big change from her hometown, a small coastal city known for its proximity to both the forest and the ocean. She misses the ease with which she could travel around town — only a 15-minute bike ride separates her from the city, the beach and the forest — and the abundance of nature around her.
The weather in Helsingborg, however, definitely does not compare to Los Angeles.
“It’s probably raining or snowing back home right now,” Hansson said. “It’s definitely in the negatives too … in Celsius, though. I’m still not and probably will never get used to Fahrenheit.”
Hansson also takes a little more time to read or write a paper at USC, and getting used to swimming in yards rather than meters has been a steep learning curve.
“I had to find an online converter tool just to understand what I was swimming,” Hansson said.
In addition, the fact that there were nearly 50 members on the swim team was also a shock.
“We only have about 10 people in my group back in Sweden, and there were only two or three girls total,” Hansson said. “But here we have 20, so that’s actually pretty nice — being able to swim against girls for once.”
Perhaps the most difficult adjustment for Hansson, however, has been being so far away from home.
“It’s different not seeing my family every day or getting to talk to them. I miss them a lot,” she said. “Even just having dinner with them — I miss that. I’ve been eating in the dining halls all the time since I’ve been here and it gets a little tiring, so I miss getting that home-cooked meal and just sitting at the dinner table with my family.”
Like most international freshmen, Hansson has taken a while to adjust to the new environment, language, culture and social customs in the United States. However, the one thing that she is — and always has been — familiar with is swimming.
At a lean 6-feet-2-inches with long limbs, Hansson has the prototypical body type for a swimmer. Her size and speed allow her to effortlessly glide through the water, while her strength and versatility make her a threat in numerous events. She says butterfly and freestyle are her preferred strokes, but she’s also strong in the individual medley. Luckily for head coach Dave Salo, the Swedish Olympian has been up for the challenge that collegiate swimming presents.
Hansson made a splash in her Trojan debut back in September, winning three events (the 200y free,
100y fly and the 200y IM) in USC’s season opening victory over Washington State in Pullman. She then followed that performance up with first-place finishes in the 200y free and the
200y IM at the SMU Women’s Classic in Texas two weeks later.
In late February, Hansson also turned heads at the Pac-12 Championships in Federal Way, Wash. Not only did she capture the Pac-12 title in the 100y fly with a school record time of 50.39 seconds (the second fastest in the nation this year) to become USC’s fourth conference winner in the event, but she also tied for third in the 100y free and set a school record in the 400y medley relay (3:27.88) with teammates sophomore Hanni Leach, sophomore Riley Scott and senior Anika Apostalon — good for the third-fastest time in the country. Along the way, Hansson also posted a third-place finish in the 200y IM with a personal record of 1:53.72, which made her the second-fastest Trojan ever in the event behind school record holder and three-time Rio gold medalist Katinka Hosszu.
While mirroring Hosszu’s success in the Olympics would be considered a tall task for almost anyone not named Michael Phelps, it’s certainly not impossible for Hansson, who already has her sights set on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. She hopes her time at USC will help get her there. For now though, she is focused on the 2017 NCAA Championships in Indianapolis next week.
“I’m so excited,” Hansson said. “Everyone on the team is ready to go, and we’re going in with confidence. Even though it’s all going to be very new to me, I have really high ambitions and goals for myself, so I’m ready for the challenge.”