Katie Meili walks on the deck after competing in the finals of the women's 100-meter breaststroke at the Arena Pro Swim Series - Mesa at Skyline Aquatic Center on Apr. 15, 2017 in Mesa, Ariz.
INDIANAPOLIS — It’s been a dream-filled two years for Katie Meili.
She won a gold medal at her first international meet in 2015 — in the 100-meter breaststroke at the 2015 Pan American Games. Then in 2016, she won two Olympic medals: bronze in the 100 breaststroke and gold in the 4x100 medley. Her split in that relay was just shy of world-record time.
Now the 26-year-old Columbia grad with the big smile is heading to her first world championships. She finished second in the 100-meter breaststroke at the 2017 Phillips 66 National Championships, part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast.
“I am thrilled, very relieved, definitely a weight off the shoulders,” said Meili. “I had to wait around a few days for it but really excited to be headed to Budapest with Team USA."
With a 1:05.51, Meili lowered her personal best and was just shy of Lilly King’s winning time of 1:04.95, the second-fastest time in the world this year. And Meili was coming on strong at the end.
“It’s part of the whole process to go best times, it’s what we all strive for,” said Meili, who is still improving even as she ages. “I think it speaks to the fact that it can be done. It takes attention to detail and consistency and dedication. I don’t see why anybody can’t keep improving if you just focus in on what you need to focus in on.”
King’s time was only two-hundredths of a second slower than her gold-medal-winning swim in Rio.
Now King and Meili are ranked second and third, respectively.
With the 100 breaststroke title, King swept the breaststroke races at 2017 nationals.
For Meili, it was redemption after she swam the first half of the 200 breaststroke on Wednesday night with King, then faded to seventh place. Coming to nationals, Meili was ranked No. 2 in the world in the 100 breaststroke, behind Russian Yulia Efimova. She swam a 1:05.95 at the Charlotte UltraSwim in June.
“The 200 has always been tricky for me,” Meili confessed. “I had a couple good ones this year. [I’ve] been focusing a lot on it in practice and was really looking forward to having a good one here. I don’t know if it’s just nerves or pressure or whatever. For some reason I can’t put it together when it matters. Some days you’re on, some days you’re off, and I wasn’t on that day.”
All her work preparing for the 200 paid off in the 100, as she was able to push the final 50 meters and almost caught King.
“She always comes on really, really strong the third 25, and I’m ready for that, I’m ready for her to beat me,” said King. “She definitely pushes me there and always has. I’m always ready for her to come on the last 50 of the race, and she’s always there.”
Meili also benefited from a more relaxed year. After the Rio Games, she traveled and enjoyed competing in the more low-key FINA World Cup races. She also took the LSATs and applied to law school.
Next year will be far less relaxed. After she returns from world championships, Meili will attend Georgetown Law School full-time — news that she shared with the public for the first time tonight. She is not retiring from swimming though.
“It’s just going to take some time to figure out how to balance it all, but I’m confident I can do it,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to something new and a new challenge and a new adventure.”
As for 2020, it’s up in the air — “one year at a time.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.