STANFORD, Calif. – It’s not every day you get a DM from Michael Phelps.
When Luca Urlando got one last month, he’d just broken Phelps’ 17-18 National Age Group record in the 200-meter butterfly at the TYR Pro Swim Series stop in Clovis, California.
“I texted a few of my friends,” said Urlando, who turned 17 in March. “I was like, ‘I can’t respond immediately. Otherwise, that’s kind of weird.’ I had to think about what I had to say back to him.”
Urlando replied something along the lines of, “Thanks Michael, it means a lot.”
On Wednesday, the Sacramento swimmer joined Phelps on the list of national champions in the event. He won the 200-meter butterfly at the Phillips 66 National Championships, which is part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity.
Phelps won 11 titles in the 200 fly, the last in 2016. For Urlando, “It’s a check mark on my bucket list.”
He also qualified for the junior world championships in Budapest, Hungary, in two weeks, winning by more than a second with a time of 1 minute, 54.92 seconds. Miles Smachlo was second (1:55.94) and Nicolas Albiero was third (1:56.05).
“I wasn’t super rested going into it,” Urlando said, “but I felt good enough to go fast.”
At Clovis, Urlando went 1:53.84, making him the third-fastest American of all time behind Phelps and Tyler Clary in 2009. It’s also the third-best performance of the year, surpassed only by Hungary’s Kristof Milak, who broke Phelps’ world record at the world championships (1:50.73), and his teammate Tamas Kenderesi (1:53.42).
Phelps had clocked 1:53.93 in the semifinals of the 2003 world championships in Barcelona, Spain, which was also the world record, in the meet that catapulted him to international fame. The next year at the Olympic Games Athens 2004, Phelps won the first eight of his 28 Olympic medals.
Phelps DMed not only congratulate Urlando, but to also some advice.
“He said, ‘Great job on the swim.’ He said the last 50, my legs got a little tired, it looked like they were sinking.”
So Phelps suggested a set for him that emphasized stroke count.
Are the comparisons to Phelps inspiration or additional pressure? “A little bit of both,” Urlando said.
However, he said he’s not feeling too much pressure and “I’m trying to ride that as long as I can until I’m maybe a pro or in college.”
Urlando said going into the last Olympic year in 2016, he never imagined he would be a contender for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“I don’t think I even had the Olympic trial cuts going into 2016,” Urlando said, “but I’ve always been kind of an optimistic person. I didn’t necessarily see it in my future, but I knew I could get better.”
After finishing third in the 200 fly at nationals last year, Urlando knew he belonged among the best in the United States. Only two will advance from the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming in Omaha next summer to the Games.
He said he needs to “just keep on doing my thing, practicing hard and not letting this stress kind of build up. I think if I keep on riding the wave, I’ll be in a good position.”
Urlando, who will be a high school senior next year, said he is willing to make the sacrifices to achieve his goals, like not staying out late with his friends.
While he said he’s gained recognition within his peer group for his accomplishments, “I’ve never been stopped in the street and people said, ‘Are you Luca Urlando?’”
But Michael Phelps definitely knows who he is.