After his first year of NCAA competition, Harvard swimmer Chuck Katis is stronger, faster, and ready to take on the competition at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. Since the end of the semester, Katis has been back training with his Curl-Burke coach, John Flanigan, who is helping the rising sophomore prepare for Trials, which begin June 25 in Omaha, Nebraska. There the nation’s best swimmers will vie for the opportunity to represent the United States in London at the 30th Summer Olympic Games, scheduled to begin July 27. At Trials, Katis will swim three events — the 100 breaststroke, 200 breaststroke, and 200 individual medley. Katis sat down with Reachforthewall.com‘s Bryan Flaherty last month at Maryland State Long Course Championships in Rockville. The following are excerpts from the interview:
Bryan: What are the personal goals you’ve set for Trials?
Chuck: I am looking forward to making a semifinal at Trials. I think a 1:01.9 would make a semi in the 100 breaststroke, so that would be really cool. Everything else would be icing on the cake.
Bryan: How did you first get involved with swimming?
Chuck: I started swimming when I was six in summer league. I swam for Shouse Village (NVSL) and made All-Stars at seven. After that, my mom put my twin sister [Jayme Katis] and I in year-round swimming with Machine [Aquatics]. Later we moved to Maine for a while where we swam for Coach Sharon Powers, who coached Ian Crocker and Mike Perotto, and then we came back to Virginia for our sophomore year of high school to swim for Curl-Burke.
Bryan: How has it been growing up with a twin sister who also swims?
Chuck: Growing up, I mainly focused on ice hockey, which is probably the reason I’m a breaststroker because of the leg strength. She played ice hockey for a while, but then she stopped playing and just went to swim practice. I was going to both hockey and swim practice and it just became easier to both just go to swim practice and we both got really into it. We both swim in college [Jayme at Virginia Tech].
Bryan: Other than just having strong legs, is there anything you take from hockey that you apply to swimming?
Chuck: I think the racing. We would do sprints from one blue line to the other, and I always had to be the first one there. I think its the same mindset you need for swimming, to push yourself as hard as you can go.
Bryan: If you weren’t swimming, do you think you’d be doing hockey?
Chuck: I can’t be sure. I still love the sport of hockey; the fast pace, non-stop sort of game has always drew me in. I think that’s what I like about swimming too. Each race is non-stop action until it’s finished. No breaks.
Bryan: Who is your favorite pro hockey team?
Chuck: I really love the Bruins, especially now that I’m living up there. But I also like the Caps.
Bryan: Why did you decide to commit to swimming?
Chuck: I think the satisfaction of going a personal best, finishing what is your best race ever, and knowing it can happen at any time, in any meet. You get addicted to that feeling.
Bryan: What sort of yardage are you doing right now to train?
Chuck: On top of John’s workouts [about 60,000 yards a week], I do a lot of things on my own. The cool thing about college is that you really get to specialize. I am doing a lot more breaststroke and IM work individually. And I’ve come up with some workouts I do on the side that I keep secret from everyone that will hopefully give me a small edge.
Bryan: What is the best advice a coach has given you?
Chuck: Stroke-wise, my Harvard coaches told me to nail the first three strokes off the start, really getting a feel for the water, and not rushing the stroke. Breaststroke is all about getting into your rhythm.
Bryan: How was your first NCAA season and how has it prepared you for a big meet like Olympic Trials?
Chuck: I think the college season does a great job of getting you ready to race all the time. Every week you have a meet and that type experience helps when you get to the big show, like NCAAs or Trials, to help you stay level headed and collected. NCAAs were wild. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before.
Bryan: Away from the pool, what do you do to de-stress from swimming?
Chuck: I’m a magician actually. I’ve been working on this non-profit I started two summers ago called The Magic of Miracles and we perform for cancer patients at hospitals and teach them magic after. When I went the first time to the hospital to perform, it made my month. To see them laugh, it makes everything I’m doing seem easy when you consider what these kids have to deal with.
Bryan: What is the most difficult part about swimming?
Chuck: Everyone would say the training. I feel like I live at the pool. Especially in college, when you are doing two practices almost every day, it just feels like you’re at the pool all day. But recently I’ve grown to really love pushing myself to stay at the pool all day training. [Harvard] Coach Murphy had us do this big kick set one day, 400s sprint kicking, and every swimmer knows you can’t sprint a 400 kick all-out. But his point was its all mental and if you push yourself, the legs will build themselves up eventually. That’s the attitude I’m taking now, so I’m just pushing myself till Trials.
Bryan: Do you prefer the short-course (NCAA) or long-course format?
Chuck: Until last summer I preferred short-course, but then I really relaxed and figured out how to swim long-course. I really have to be rested, especially my legs, because it’s a lot of leg work in breaststroke. I’m now leaning towards long-course, since it’s a lot more international.
Bryan: Do you consider yourself more of a racer or a strategist?
Chuck: When I’m well rested, I’m definitely a racer. I hate to lose as much as anyone, and when I’m feeling rested and prepared, I love to race. Maybe mid-season it’s more about strategy so you can just get the strategy down so when you are rested you can just go.
Bryan: What racing suit will you be wearing at Trials?
Chuck: I’m going to be wearing Arena. On the Harvard team, Alex Meye — he made the Olympics this year in open water — he talked the Harvard team into getting Arena and I love it. Perfect fit for breaststroke. [Bryan: And your cap?] Chuck: I like the dome cap, so whoever makes a dome cap first, Harvard or Curl-Burke. I’m going to dual represent for both teams, so maybe I can get Harvard on one side and Curl-Burke on the other.
Bryan: Do you have any pre-race or pre-meet rituals?
Chuck: I have a whole little routine I do, but it’s all very subconscious. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I just chill out. I think there is something to be said about just relaxing. Some people like to get themselves really pumped up, but especially at a big meet like Trials you’re going to have enough energy if you’re rested. Everything else doesn’t matter too much. I try to go with — John [Flanigan] taught me this — the three C’s: calm, cool, and collected. So I’ll probably just be chilling out behind the block and getting mentally ready.
Bryan: If you are listening to music, what songs are you listening to in order to prepare?
Chuck: I don’t plan it out. It just happens. Whatever comes on my iPod. But if I have a great race, I’m going to listen to that same song for the rest of the meet. Last summer it was Take Over Control [by Afrojack ft. Eva Simons].
Bryan: If you could race anyone in the world, from any era, who would it be?
Chuck: I would race Mike Barrowman in the 200 breaststroke. I’m not saying I could beat him now, but maybe give me another four or five years. I just had the chance to meet him at a Curl-Burke fundraiser, and he is the coolest guy. He was so into swimming that after he set the world record, which he held forever (1992-2001), he said he couldn’t even think about the sport because if someone mentioned it, he wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about swimming. I love that.
Bryan: What event at Trials are you most excited to watch?
Chuck: I’m most excited to see Katie Ledecky make the team this year in the 800 freestyle. I think I might be flying home during the final, but I’ll be watching on my phone or something. I don’t train in her group, but I’ve practiced with her and everyone knows her. I think it would be so cool to see someone so close to us make the team and get to enjoy that experience.