The 1997 Lake Forest High School Yearbook named Jillian Schwartz most likely to go to the Olympics.
The editors of that publication were accurate prognosticators about this Wall of Fame Scoutbut few could have forecasted the 15-year journey that took her from the North Shore to her second Olympiad opening Friday in London. She first competed in Athens in 2004.
The former two-sport—gymnastics and track—all state Lake Forest athlete chose track at Duke University and became a pole vaulter, a sport barred to women until 2000 so she could not have done that in high school.
Schwartz competed in the 2004 Olympics as an American and returns to the games eight years later as a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, competing for the Israelis.
Changing teams has had little effect for Schwartz as a competitor. Her training base remains the same as it was since she graduated Duke in 2001, Jonesboro, AR, where her long time coach, Earl Bell, is based.
People are the same
“I’m competing against the same people,” Schwartz said. “I see the same faces. This is an individual sport.” What is important to her is performing as well as she can in the Olympics.
This time Schwartz has one thing going for her she has not had other times she was primed to compete for gold medals. She is healthy. In 2004 she had a stress fracture finishing 14th and failing to make the finals. “It was not the optimum situation,” she said.
As a senior in high school, she was favored to win state championships in both gymnastics and track and injuries got in the way both times.
“She rolled an ankle and we had to take her off floor,” Scout gymnastics Coach Robin Straus said, recalling the 1997 meet where an event had to be sceratched. Schwartz still placed 6th in vault and 13th on the balance beam.
That spring, Schwartz was favored to win the 100-meter hurdles in the State Meet but injury got in the way again. “I broke my ankle on a hurdle,” she said. She was set to compete in not only the hurdles but the long jump and triple jump.
In her 35-year career at Lake Forest, Schwartz is the only Olympian Straus has mentored. “And it’s not in the sport I coached her in,” she said. Straus will be in London for the games and plans to watch her former athlete compete.
Schwartz is primed for a good performance
In 2008, Schwartz placed fourth in the American Olympic trials and only the top three finishers go to the Games. Her personal best vault is 15-6 set in 2008 and the best height by any vaulter this year is 15-10. She has set her goals in steps.
“My first goal is to get to the finals (the top 12),” Schwartz said. “Once you’re there anything can happen in the Olympics. I feel I have a few high jumps left in me for the Olympic Games.”
An outstanding performance will not surprise Straus who remembers the work ethic she had in high school. “She set the bar high and went after it,” Straus said. “She was always very, very determined.”
When the Olympics are over Schwartz’s career will take another turn. After 11 years as a professional athlete, she will return to the area to pursue a MBA at the University of Chicago but sports will not be far from her mind.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky that this has been my job for 11 years. I need to develop a different skill set in an area that will carry me to a new place,” Schwartz said. “I still want to do something related to sports.”
by: Steve Sadin