Remember Luca Urlando as Wildcard Contender for Olympic Berth

Luca Urlando -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Remember Luca Urlando as Wildcard Contender for Olympic Berth

In one of the most unexpected college swimming performances in recent memory, Luca Urlando set his first American record in a stroke in which he hardly ever competed. Known for his abilities in butterfly and, to a lesser extend, the 200 freestyle and 200 IM, Urlando stunned everyone watching at McAuley Aquatic Center in March 2022 when he lowered the 100-yard backstroke American record held for six years by Ryan Murphy.

During the one semester when South African Matt Sates swam for the University of Georgia, Urlando shifted to the backstroke leg of the medley relay in order to take advantage of the swimmers’ relative strengths. Urlando had the requisite underwater kicking to excel at short course backstroke, but no one expected this. He touched in 43.35 to erase Murphy’s previous mark of 43.49. Urlando swam seven tenths quicker than Kacper Stokowski’s winning time in the individual 100 back earlier that evening.

Urlando would not win any events at that NCAA meet to conclude his sophomore season, but the Sacramento, Calif., native had an impressive meet overall, finishing 11-hundredths behind Brendan Burns in the 200 fly while also taking second in the 100 fly and third in the 200 IM. One month later, Urlando channeled that momentum one month later into a spot on his first World Championships team, rebounding after missing the Tokyo Olympics by one spot (and nine hundredths) in the 200 fly. This time, he won the the 200-meter fly at the U.S. International Team Trials before placing fifth in that event in Budapest.

Those Worlds, more than 16 months ago, marked the last time Urlando posted any world-class times — but for good reason. A shoulder injury almost one year ago knocked him out for the remainder of the college season. After that, Urlando focused on his rehab and did not race again until June, easing his way back into competition while not attempting to qualify for this year’s Worlds team. He has raced exclusively freestyle in his return, topping out at fourth place in the 200 free at July’s TYR Pro Championships in a time of 1:46.99.

Urlando is listed a a senior swimmer on Georgia’s roster for the 2023-24 season, but he is not expected to race collegiately this current season. Instead, expect Urlando to focus on working his way onto an Olympic team after his narrow miss just over two years ago. In addition to the close call in the 200 fly, he scratched the 200 free final at U.S. Olympic Trials to focus on the fly. Looking ahead to the 2024 meet, Urlando’s best shot at qualifying for Paris might be in that four-lap freestyle race as a relay swimmer, especially with a sub-1:54 effort likely required for qualification in the 200 fly.

But because of Urlando’s injury challenges and relative lack of competitive opportunities in the last 12 months, he looks like a wildcard contender for Olympic Trials. In order to make it to Paris, Urlando will have to overcome the physical challenges of returning from a major surgical procedure plus show the mental resolve to persevere through the long rebuilding process after.

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Dart fan
Dart fan
1 month ago

Good luck Luca!

1 month ago

Do you know where Luca is training? He’s currently listed on the Georgia Bulldog roster. I believe he did at least some of his post-injury recovery training last summer at ASU, and swam in the Sun Devil Open in early June (representing his pre-Georgia home club, DART Swimming); last summer, after the Sun Devil meet he was in the Clovis Grand Challenge meet in early July before concluding his summer at the TYR Pro Championships noted in the article. The Georgia Bulldogs came out for duals with ASU and Luca did not swim, either for the Bulldogs or in any pro exhibition heats between sessions, but he did swim in the pro exhibition section of a later ASU meet. I seem to recall a freestyle race next to Kibler.

Is he training with Georgia, ASU or DART or some combination of the three? In any event, I think it would be a very popular outcome for swim fans for Luca to come back from injury and previous close calls to make an Olympic team. Good luck, Luca.

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