Kate Douglass Learned From Tokyo Experience, ‘Ready for Trials to Be Here’

Kate Douglass of United States of America competes in the Women's Medley 200m Semifinal during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 23rd, 2023.
Kate Douglass -- Photo Courtesy: Andrea Masini / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Kate Douglass Learned From Tokyo Experience, ‘Ready for Trials to Be Here’

When Kate Douglass arrived at the Olympic Trials three years ago, she was already an NCAA-title-winning swimmer with legitimate Olympic hopes but by no means a lock to qualify for the Tokyo Games. Her first event, the 100 butterfly, brought a huge lifetime best but a third-place finish. But two days later, a furious surge down the stretch of the 200 IM final helped Douglass get to the wall in second place, two hundredths behind University of Virginia teammate Alex Walsh and two hundredths clear of veteran Madisyn Cox. That effort put Douglass onto her first Olympic team, and she capitalized on the opportunity by winning bronze in her lone event in Tokyo.

Reflecting upon those moments, the 22-year-old from Pelham, N.Y., wonders how she was even able to function, let alone produce world-class performances, given her inexperience on that stage and the intense anxiety she was feeling.

“At Trials, I remember being so nervous in the ready room and at the Olympics before the 200 IM. I was surprised I was able to swim. I felt like I was going to throw up before that race,” Douglass said. “Since then, I feel like I’ve gotten better at calming my nerves. That was my first really big international meet, and now I’ve done a few, so I know how to handle those. I’ve done a Trials, so I know how it goes. I know how to handle myself when you have to do prelims, semis and finals of multiple races.”

Douglass might need to channel every ounce of that experience over the next several months as she embarks on what she hopes will be a second Olympic campaign. Now, Douglass is an established veteran with bona fides in a highly unusual range of events: she is the two-time world champion in the 200 IM, a three-time World Championships medalist and American-record holder in the 200 breaststroke and among the world’s top 100 freestylers, seemingly destined for a multi-relay role with the U.S. women in Tokyo.


Kate Douglass (left) with University of Virginia teammate (and 200 IM rival) Alex Walsh — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

For a potential multi-event star like Douglass, trying to qualify for the Olympic team in as many events as possible might make sense, with Douglass having raced a heavy load at multiple editions of the World Championships. In two decades with largely the same event schedule at Worlds, Douglass is the only swimmer to attempt the 100 free-200 breast double in the same finals session. But with the encouragement of Virginia head coach Todd DeSorbo, she has chosen a more conservative approach for this Olympic season.

“I think the Olympics is a little different than a World Championships,” DeSorbo said. “Trying to do a heavy load at a World Championship, it’s good experience, it’s good practice. I think there’s a significant difference between an Olympic gold and silver and a World Championship gold and silver. At the end of the day, you want to set people up to do the best that they can do, and if they’ve got a chance to win a gold medal, you don’t want to take away from that. She’ll certainly be focused on the events where she’s got the best chance to win a gold medal or just medal in general. She’s not going to do a ton of events. She’ll whittle it down.”

That means the 100 fly is out, even though Douglass would have a chance at an Olympic medal if she qualified for the U.S. Olympic team. She will race the 100 free and 200 breast plus either the 200 IM or 50 free, both of which are at the end of the meet. The medley remains the likely choice, but it’s worth noting that Douglass did set an American record in the 50 free on her way to silver at February’s World Championships.

This year has been a different one for Douglass as she opted against swimming a fifth year of college racing to focus on her professional career as well as a master’s degree in statistics. She took classes part-time throughout the year, three in the fall and two in the spring, and at least one more year of that program remains. With the semester over, however, Douglass added that her outside-the-pool routine has included “honestly, a lot of napping,” but not overthinking the daunting meets head of her.

“I think I do a good job of taking my mind off swimming when I’m not at the pool, and I have a whole group of friends who are trying to do the same thing, so that’s helpful,” she said. “I definitely have more time to focus on recovery, which is good.”

Now that Olympic Trials are fast approaching, Douglass expresses an eagerness quite unlike anything she felt in 2021. The nervous feelings have shifted, still present but with an enthusiasm quite unlike the downright fear that colored Douglass’ Trials and Olympic experiences the last time.

With less than three weeks remaining until Douglass begins her quest to qualify for Paris in three individual events, she has the perspective of a veteran at the peak of her powers.

“I don’t know if there’s ever a point where you don’t get nervous. I’m always nervous. But I feel like these days, I’m more excited than nervous,” she said. “In the past, I’ve been scared of a race, and I feel like now I’m just really excited to get up there and race. I’m ready for Trials to be here. If it was tomorrow, I’d be excited because I’m done waiting around. I’m ready to get up there and race and see what I’ve done in racing.”

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