INDIANAPOLIS — Everyone is chasing Chase Kalisz.
But in the men’s 400-meter individual medley at the 2017 Phillips 66 National Championships, part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, no one could catch him.
The 2016 Olympic silver medalist, Kalisz swam away with his fourth 400 IM national title and sealed a berth at his third world championships with a winning time of 4:06.99 — the fastest time in the world this year. Fellow University of Georgia Bulldog and 2016 Olympian Jay Litherland finished second in 4:09.31. Gunnar Bentz, also a Bulldog, was third in 4:11.66.
“This is the fastest I’ve ever been at this point [in the season], so I’m really happy with that progress,” said Kalisz.
But he was more excited for his two friends and teammates. And now Litherland will swim the 400 IM at the 2017 world championships with Kalisz.
“I get to race with those guys every single day,” he added. “To see them go two really good times that they’re happy with is more fulfilling than anything I did tonight.”
In Budapest, Hungary, next month, Kalisz will have a chance to add the one world championship medal not in his collection: gold in the 400 IM.
He won a silver medal at the 2013 world championships, then bronze in 2015. Last year in Rio, he broke a 20-year tradition of U.S. men winning the Olympic 400 IM — two of those gold medals won by his idol Michael Phelps. But Kalisz had given 100 percent in the race, he said, and was happy with his silver medal.
And his performance in Rio might be the fuel to help Kalisz achieve gold — at 2017 worlds and at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
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“I think I’m in a position to be able to race for a title,” he said. “I tell people all the time that the best thing that happened to me for this four-year period was me getting silver [in Rio]. It motivates me every single day, I think about it every single thing that I do.”
After Rio, Kalisz returned to the University of Georgia, where he won his third NCAA title in the 400 IM, smashing his American record in the process. Immediately after that meet in March, the 23-year-old turned pro.
He seamlessly made the switch from short-course yards (NCAA swimming) to the long-course Olympic pool. And he took the Arena Pro Swim Series by storm, winning three events in Mesa in April (200 butterfly, 200 IM and 400 IM) and the 200 butterfly in Santa Clara in June. He made his biggest mark in Atlanta in May, sweeping four events (200 breaststroke, 200 fly, 200 IM and 400 IM).
“The biggest thing is that I don’t really label myself as just a 400 IMer anymore,” he said. “I’m not really sure what else I am, but I’m starting to gain confidence in other things.”
A perfectionist, he also started giving himself a break and enjoying the process more.
“I thought everything needed to be perfect; I refused to have a bad day,” he said. “I did everything perfect: I ate perfect, I went to bed on time.”
Now he, Litherland and Bentz “mess around in practice” and have fun.
“I realized that I don’t need to be perfect every single time I jump in the water. I’m striving to be, but I can move on with my life and not really let it be a burden on me. That’s overall made me enjoy the sport more, and I have a new appreciation.”
In Budapest, Kalisz will have to swim close to perfect to win another medal. His two rivals, 2015 world silver medalist David Verraszto from Hungary and two-time world champion (2013 and 2015) and Rio bronze medalist Daiya Seto from Japan recently swam the 400 IM in the 4:07 range. And 2016 Olympic gold medalist Kosuke Hagino will be at worlds as well.
“I’m going to go out there and race my hardest,” said Kalisz.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.