Gretchen Walsh On Making Worlds: “I’ve Been Dreaming Of This For So Long”

INDIANAPOLIS—At last, Gretchen Walsh has secured her spot on a senior international team.

On Tuesday, Walsh swam a personal best time of 53.11 to finish third in the final of the women’s 100 freestyle, officially punching her ticket to the 2023 World Championships.

Walsh’s qualification lifted the burden of expectation that had been placed on her for the last four years, starting from when she first went 53.74 in the 100 free as a 16-year-old in 2019, and then continuing through 2021 and 2022 when she failed to replicate that time and didn’t qualify for either the Tokyo Olympics or 2022 World Championships despite being a favorite to do so.

But now, it isn’t all about expectations for Walsh—she actually pulled through.

“I’ve been dreaming of this moment for so long,” Walsh told SwimSwam. “It’s been a long journey and I can’t say it’s been easy, but the moment I touched the wall and saw that I got third, none of the difficult times even mattered. I was just so happy to say that I’m going to Japan.”

Learning To Embrace The 100 Free Again

Since 2019, Walsh has had a love-hate relationship with the 100 free. It was her favorite event when she first broke out, but then she started to dislike it after her first disappointment at the 2021 Olympic Trials, where she failed to advance out of the prelims in a time of 55.91.

“Back in 2019, the 100 free was my baby,” Walsh said. “I was very confident in my abilities, but it didn’t go super well and I immediately had a mental block. Then, it was my least favorite event.”

Walsh’s Trials swim haunted her even in her freshman year at Virginia when she “grew to love” the short course 100 free and became a national champion in the event. She had told SwimSwam prior to the 2022 Trials that she felt confident heading into Worlds, but pangs of doubt were still present deep down in long course.

“I was still really scared to swim the 100 free,” Walsh said. “I told myself that it was okay if I didn’t swim well, but clearly it’s not okay. Last year, I hadn’t totally overcome my disappointing trials from the year before.”

At the 2022 Trials, Walsh once again failed to make it out of prelims in 100 free, killing her best shot at the 2022 Worlds team. What made the heartbreak sting even more was the 50 free at that meet, where she just missed qualifying by one one-hundredth of a second. After that meet, she realized that things needed to change.

As previously reported, Walsh and her coach Todd DeSorbo spent the summer of 2022 racing the 100 free in a practice suit until she was able to hit a certain goal time. That strategy was meant to help her become more comfortable with the 100 free race in itself and make her “get out of her own head.” She also sought advice from Christen Shefchunas—a confidence coach that she and her sister Alex had been seeing for the past few years. Walsh said that Shefchunas played a big part in helping her let go of the past and setting her sights on what she can do in the moment.

“She helped me pull my brain away from [my past trials swims] because I can’t change anything that’s in the past, I can only focus on the present,” Walsh said.

Walsh’s adjustments in the summer of 2022 helped her tremendously. At Summer Nationals last August, she broke 54 seconds for the first time since 2019, clocking 53.86. She carried that momentum into the NCAA season, where she dominated the 100 free once again and got within 0.05 of Simone Manuel‘s US Open record.

Headed into trials this year, Walsh was much better prepared, both mentally and physically. She adjusted her stroke from a straight-arm stroke to more of a bent-arm technique and focused more on the power within her swim. Having three months between NCAAs and Trials also helped her adjust more from short course and long course, making her more comfortable racing in meters.

“I had to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Walsh said. “I was so afraid of hurting so I would always take it out slow, but now I’ve become comfortable with sending it on the first 50, and now that’s how I swim. And that’s what gets me to the wall.”

Earlier this June, Walsh swam 54.02 at the NCAP Elite Qualifier. The swim was her fastest in-season time ever, and it put her in a better position than ever before to make a senior international team.

Executing The Race

On Tuesday morning, Walsh was in a situation that was all too familiar for her—she was standing behind the blocks before her 100 free prelim at the World Championship Trials, and the stress was hitting.

“I was so nervous,” she said. “I knew that I had to make the final to have a chance, and I put a lot of pressure on myself.”

A year ago, Walsh would have let her past mistakes get to her head. But this time around, her mind was only on the present moment. In her subconscious, memories of previous Trials mishaps still lingered—but she didn’t let them affect her.

“In my head, I just kept on thinking, ‘I’ve done everything I can to get to this moment. I know exactly what I’m doing and I’m just gonna go out there and race.'” Walsh said. “I was so nervous, but I was using my thoughts to calm me down.”

“I just stuck to my plan and at the end of the day, you have a race strategy and you can just fall on that instinctively.”

In prelims, Walsh reset her best time from 2019, going 53.64 to secure a spot in the final. Then, at night, she dropped down to 53.11 to finish third. In one day, she had taken 0.63 seconds off of her best time—more than she did in the last four years combined.

What made Walsh’s qualification even sweeter was that she made Worlds alongside her college teammates Kate Douglass and Maxine Parker (Parker isn’t guaranteed qualification yet, but likely will make the team), who finished first and sixth respectively. After touching the wall at the finish, Walsh shared an embrace with Douglass.

After watching her teammates race at international meets from home (or the stands) the last two years, Walsh can now finally join them.

“We push each other so much and we help each other,” Walsh said. “I’m so excited that all three of us are on this relay. It’s gonna feel like NCAAs.”

Gretchen Walsh, welcome to the big stage.

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HOO love
3 months ago

great read!!

3 months ago

Would like to see her lead off the relay in prelims and see where that takes them. I think she can produce a mid 52 flat start.

Octavio Gupta
Reply to  Christopher
3 months ago

I think KD will lead off.

3 months ago

She has been on fire the past year. Hopefully her breakthrough at this meet helps catapult her to the success she and all of us know she’s capable of. She’s well on her way now

3 months ago

Very well written Yanyan

3 months ago


VA Steve
3 months ago

Great story about her journey. Should be read by swimmers struggling to find their groove. Yeah Gretchen!

3 months ago


3 months ago

Congratulations Gretchen!

Gretchen Walsh has the opportunity to claim a second event in the W 50 FL.

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming by being her high school swim team's manager for four years. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in January 2022, where she hopes to contribute to and learn more about …

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