U.S. Nationals: Kate Douglass Storms Ahead of Alex Walsh to Win 200 IM, Become Sixth-Fastest Swimmer Ever

Kate Douglass -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

U.S. Nationals: Kate Douglass Storms Ahead of Alex Walsh to Win 200 IM, Become Sixth-Fastest Swimmer Ever

One year ago, Kate Douglass avoided the 200 individual medley. It was not a race she enjoyed, so she opted out of trying to qualify for the World Championships in the race despite having won Olympic bronze one year earlier. But she could not stay away from the event forever, and now, she will head to the World Championships among the favorites for gold.

After Douglass took her 200 IM hiatus last summer, two short course swims drew her back in: first an American record and gold medal at the Short Course World Championships in December 2022 and then the fastest time ever by an enormous margin in the 200-yard IM at the NCAA Championships in March. Douglass possesses a unique skill set, world-class skills in three of the four strokes and a combination of fast-twitch speed and endurance that the short medley requires.

Having already qualified for the World Championships in the 100 freestyle and 200 breaststroke, Douglass swam the 200 IM prelims on the final day of competition and made a statement right away. She went 2:08.29, winning her heat by four seconds and swimming the top qualifying mark by almost three. She took a three-quarters of a second off her best time — in prelims.

In the final, the toughest competition would come from a very familiar face: Alex Walsh, her teammate at the University of Virginia — and also the defending world champion. Douglass has superior butterfly and freestyle skills to Walsh, but Walsh is better at backstroke and the duo are nearly even on breaststroke. The race played out almost exactly to script as the Cavalier duo faced off in lanes four and five.

Douglass was out under world-record pace after butterfly, and then Walsh had the lead at the halfway point. But Douglass had a sensational breaststroke leg, out-splitting Walsh 36.25 to 37.09. After that, the speed of a 52.57 100 freestyler showed through, with Douglass splitting 30.40, and that allowed her to post one of the fastest times in history.

Douglass touched in 2:07.09, breaking the U.S. Open record of 2:07.84 set by Walsh last year. She became the sixth-fastest performer in history and second-quickest American, surpassing Walsh’s world-title-winning time of 2:07.13. Walsh grabbed second in 2:07.89, and she will have the opportunity to defend her title from last year. Douglass is the second-fastest swimmer in the world this year while Walsh ranks fourth.

A world-title favorite in a race she once scorned.

“I think I’m in a pretty good place with it right now. I think taking some time off from it was a good idea. I haven’t focused my training on the 200 IM, but it’s kind of worked out where I’m training each of the strokes and I put it together and it goes well. That was definitely the strongest 200 IM that I’ve swam, and it felt good,” Douglass said. “My butterfly and backstroke felt good. Sometimes I try really hard on the first 100, and it didn’t feel like I had to try very hard to finish that first 100. I felt strong in the water, and I was happy with that.”

A very competitive field will await Douglass and Walsh in Fukuoka, with Canadian teenager Summer McIntosh owning the world’s fastest time at 2:06.89 and Kaylee McKeown, the silver medalist behind Walsh at last year’s Worlds, going 2:07.60 at Australian Trials in June. China’s Yu Yiting and Canada’s Sydney Pickrem have also posted times in the 2:08-range.

Over the past two years, Douglass dominated on the NCAA level, winning three individual titles and helping Virginia to four relay titles each of the last two seasons, and while she was an international-medal-caliber athlete in long course, the success globally did not match up to yards. The narrative has certainly shifted now after Douglass became one of only five American women to qualify for three individual events at Worlds, joining Katie LedeckyRegan SmithLilly King and Virginia teammate Gretchen Walsh.

“I definitely think we had a good chunk of long course training these past few months after NCAAs, and I think that definitely helped. Obviously, in the past few college seasons, I haven’t done a lot of long course racing, and now that I don’t really need to focus on short course racing anymore, I think it will help me a lot in the future,” Douglass said.

Honestly, I kind of like (long course) better. You can ask (Virginia head coach) Todd (DeSorbo), but I hate holding my breath. That’s like my least favorite thing, so I kind of don’t mind less underwaters.”

Douglass will be competing at her third major international long course competition but in her first meet as one of the depended-upon figures for the U.S. team, with three individual events and up to four relays on her slate. Her schedule for Fukuoka is not final yet; with the 100 free and 200 breast held concurrently at Worlds, Douglass noted that she make a decision in conjunction with her coaches and USA Swimming as to whether she pursues both. Regardless, the American’s team success will depend largely on Douglass.

“It’s definitely a little nerve-wracking knowing I’m going for a lot of events and I’m going to be on a lot of relays, but I’m really happy with that,” Douglass said. “Going into this meet, I really wanted to try to have two individual events this time around, and obviously I made that happen.”

Behind the race’s two stars, Torri Huske broke 2:10 for the first time, finishing third in 2:09.75. Huske is qualified for Fukuoka in the 100 fly and as part of the 400 free relay. Leah Hayes, who was the No. 2 American last year in Douglass’ absence and won bronze at the World Championships, ended up fourth in 2:10.42, more than one-and-a-half seconds off her best time.

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