After International Resurgence, Katie McLaughlin Using ISL as ‘Race Prep For Trials’

Katie McLaughlin will compete in the ISL this fall. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Katie McLaughlin, LA CurrentIn the lead-up to the first International Swimming League pro-team season, Swimming World will look at some of the pioneers of a new chapter unfolding in the sport. Today: queen of the double.

Pioneers Of Pro-Team Swimming

Saturday: Olivia Smoliga.
Monday: Katie McLaughlin.

Katie McLaughlin has made her mark on perfecting the art of the double.

For two consecutive years, in a matter of minutes, she earned All-American honors in back-to-back races for Cal.

Now, McLaughlin could be doing the same thing for a new team. With the International Swimming League poised to begin its historic first season, McLaughlin became one of the most coveted swimmers by ISL teams because of her versatility and resurgence on the international stage.

The moment she truly felt like she was among the world’s elite swimmers was when she anchored the silver-medal-winning 4×200 free relay. It wasn’t gold, but it was a new and unforgettable experience for McLaughlin.

“Getting to anchor one of the relays for the U.S. in finals was one of the most exciting and terrifying things I have ever done,” McLaughlin told Swimming World. “It was so scary, but it was the most fun at the same time. Everyone trusts you which was such a cool feeling.”

Especially after finishing ninth in the 100 fly (57.23).

“My individual 100 fly, I got ninth, which was tough. There is no reason Team USA shouldn’t have had two in the final,” she said. “I don’t know if I could have done anything better in that race, but now in training, I don’t ever want to get ninth again.”


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

But of course, just being at worlds was a victory for McLaughlin with everything she has been through, especially in the 100 fly.

“If you told me a few years ago that I was going to swim the 100 fly at worlds, I would have never believed you,” she said.

McLaughlin has transformed into that type of versatile swimmer, even on the world’s biggest stage, shining in multiple events at nationals, worlds and NCAAs, including her signature double for Cal.

The return to success on the international stage was an extra spark for McLaughlin.

She has been on the international stage since the 2013 World Junior Championships, winning gold in the 200 fly. She made the 2015 World Championships and won gold as part of the 800 free relay.

It looked like she was heading for more international gold.

But a neck injury in 2016 derailed that path, at least temporarily, though it didn’t seem temporary at the time.

She didn’t make the 2017 World Championships, instead swimming at the World University Games where she medaled on three relays, but not individually.

Then her 2018 nationals started poorly, missing the finals in two of her stronger events. Instead of letting that crush her, she went out and crushed her 100 fly, swimming, at the time, the best race of her career 57.51, finishing second and earning a spot on Team USA for the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships and 2019 World Championships.

“It’s just taking every race like, ‘OK, let’s see what I have right now,’ rather than thinking that every race is going to define my swimming career,” Katie McLaughlin said.

That is the attitude she is taking with the International Swimming League. As the world begins its preparation for an Olympic year, the ISL will provide a unique opportunity for some racing during heavier training.

“I am looking forward to racing and just getting to hang out with my friends in the fall. It will be cool to be a part of a big team. That is what I loved about college swimming. It is not about me or my times. It is about the team, wanting to race and cheering for my teammates who are racing,” McLaughlin said. “A lot of the Cal people are on the Current. It is just going to be fun for me. I have met all of my best friends through swimming. Getting to travel around and race with them is going to be so cool.”

Having the circuit in short-course meters changes the racing feel and takes the pressure off, she said.

“I think short course meters makes it fun. I am happy because it will really be about racing. Really not knowing what a time means and just racing. In short-course yards, it is all about the turns and the start, so having that aspect will be fun,” she said. “I am going to race and score points. That is a different way to enjoy swimming. It is not about comparing times.

“I literally could not tell you one time I have gone or should go in short-course meters. It brings out the little girl who just wants to race in all of us. You just want to get across the pool and get your hand on the wall first.”

Meanwhile, she can still pick up things to work on.

“If I can hit 10 kicks off my walls when I am not rested, I can when I get to the big meets. For me, this is great prep for trials because racing is the best way to make my racing better,” McLaughlin said. “In college you race every week. That is the perfect way for me to practice, putting myself in those race situations and looking at the details of everything.

“Meets are where everything has to show up.”


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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