Kate Douglass Builds Legacy as One of Greatest College Swimmers in History After Unprecedented 3 American Records in 3 Different Strokes

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

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It is easy to see how dominant Kate Douglass has become in the sport of swimming. Three American records in three individual races at the NCAA Championships is easy for people to wrap their heads around.

What is difficult to wrap their heads around is the variety of events those records and championships came in.

Many dominant swimmers have had three titles, and even three records, in one meet.

But no swimmer in NCAA women’s history has ever won three different strokes in a single meet that involve the breaststroke, let alone three records.

Now Kate Douglass has, making her the answer to a future trivia question, and transforming her legacy into one of the greatest college swimmers in history.

Douglass won the 50 freestyle, 100 butterfly and 200 breaststroke. There have been some 100 breaststrokers that have done well in the 50 freestyle, and some 50 freestylers that do well in the 100 butterfly.

But nobody in those three events in the history of women’s college swimming. In fact, she is the only swimmer to win three different strokes since Tracy Caulkins in the early 1980s when swimmers could swim more than three individual events. Natalie Coughlin had American records in freestyle, backstroke and butterfly events, but they were not set in the same meet.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Those are the names she is among now, after breaking NCAA and American records this week of college swimming legends Lilly King and Abbey Weitzeil.

“I don’t ever thought I would come into an NCAA Championships and win all three of my events. I exceeded all expectations for myself and it is a really cool feeling,” Kate Douglass said. “It was awesome that I was able to prove to myself that I was capable of what I just did. I definitely owe a lot to Todd (DeSorbo). I knew my goals were going to be difficult because they are two very different races. But I love the 50 free and the 200 breast. I never really expected I was going to get American records.”

But those were her goals early in the season.

“It is funny because when I recruited her, my goal for her was to be the fastest in the NCAA in the 50 free and 200 IM. I knew early on that she was capable of something pretty special,” Virginia coach Todd DeSorbo said. “With someone as versatile as Kate Douglass, I try to veer toward what excites them, and let them set those goals, what they get motivated by. She sat in my office early in the season and I asked her what her goals were, what she wanted to go after this season. And she doesn’t verbalize goals often. This was the first time she did that. She said she wanted to break the American record in the 50 free and 200 breaststroke. She didn’t mention the 100 fly and at that point she was only a tenth or two off of it. So I got excited to hear her say that.”

And she accomplished this tremendous feat head-to-head with an NCAA record holder in the butterfly (Maggie Mac Neil) and the long-course American record holder (Torri Huske) and that is just in the butterfly.

“She did significantly more breaststroke training because of that, and I was a little bit concerned knowing that breaststroke work is so different, you wonder if training all of this breaststroke would take away from her freestyle or her butterfly,” Virginia coach Todd DeSorbo said. “But knowing how hard she works, I knew she was capable of that, but I didn’t know if she could do it all at once. It is wild to do it here against the competition she was doing it against. Maggie Mac Neil is a fierce competitor and Torri Huske is unbelievable. Then to race a lot of rivals in the 200 breaststroke and then break Lilly King’s record. I mean, Lilly is arguably the best breaststroker ever. It is pretty phenomenal to see her do something like that — to say she wanted to do it then commit to doing it and actually do it.”

If that wasn’t enough, she was on four winning relays, all of which set an NCAA and American records — even if two of those were at the ACC Championships not this week.

That is seven events — seven American records for Douglass this postseason. That is an impossible record to break, only one that could be tied.

“I could have seen all of this coming because she is a great trainer. She is capable and she did it. She is an amazing woman. It really just inspired all of us. We were all in awe but at the same time could see it coming,” teammate and training partner Gretchen Walsh said.

Kate Douglass won the 50 freestyle last year at the NCAA Championships and qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in the 200 IM, earning a bronze medal in Tokyo.

Those are extraordinary accomplishments that happened in 2021, but as it turns out, nothing comes close to what she has already accomplished in 2022.

And the year is just getting started.

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2 years ago

She had an outstanding performance at the championships! I look forward to seeing what the rest of the year brings for her. And I hope we get to see her at the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

2 years ago

Nearly* unprecedented. In 2002 Natalie broke the 100/200 back, 100 fly, then lead the 400 free relay in an American record. Being in a scy club that only has Natalie in it is pretty special for sure.

2 years ago

At one point in time, Tracy Caulkins held American records in all four strokes and the IMs. If you scoured the records of Nationals from the late 70s or early 80s, you might find a meet where she set American records in three strokes. Maybe the meet where she set the American record in the 500? I don’t have any recollection of this happening only that it’s possible.

Ron Spencer
Ron Spencer
2 years ago

And she is a biological girl

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