Luca Urlando, Swimming Beyond His Years

Torrey Hart
by Torrey Hart 31

January 07th, 2019 News

Luca Urlando is like any other teenager. When we spoke the Saturday after the 2018 Speedo Winter Junior Championships – West, he had slept through his mid-afternoon alarm. He likes to play basketball and football – but not video games, which his parents never bought.

“I like hanging out with friends, sleeping – that’s basically it, yeah,” Urlando told SwimSwam.

But he also likes doing repeat 150s at 200 pace. And he’s faster than Michael Phelps in his formative years.

Over the summer, the 16-year-old finished third in the 200 fly at U.S. Nationals and made the 2018-19 U.S. Senior National Team. You may recognize his name from when he was mistakenly named to the senior 2018 Pan Pacific Championships team in Austin Katz‘s stead – but Urlando quickly moved on from that incident, winning 100 and 200 fly at junior Pan Pacs.

At Juniors, he went 45.62 to become the youngest swimmer ever to go sub-46 in the 100 fly, easily taking down former age group phenom Michael Andrew’s record of 46.23. An hour later, Urlando picked up another National Age Group record in the 100 back, going 45.66; he joins a list of athletes only 27 swimmers long who have broken 46 in both the 100 fly and 100 back at any age. But his crowning swim came on the final night of action: he went 1:40.91 in the 200 fly, over a second ahead of Phelps at his age.

“I mean, it was super exciting, and I can’t wait for the future to come, especially from beating one of [Phelps’] records,” Urlando said. “It’s kind of eyeopening in a sense.”

Though he only swims about two meets a year for his high school team, his feats are getting deserved attention at C.K. McClatchy High School, where he takes AP and honors classes. “I’d say almost everyone in the school knows because they also make a lot of announcements, especially during high school season… [The athletic director’s] daughter swims and tells him, like, everything – every meet, everything I do.”

But like any other student, he’s not afforded much leeway when he misses “like weeks at a time” to swim: “It’s super hard to kinda catch up and I usually try before the year starts to kinda pick teachers who have known to be more – I shouldn’t say relaxed, but more relaxed – on me missing so much school – and more understanding, I should say.”

The work is worth it, however, as Urlando is getting close with his USA teammates who can relate to his unique life.

“I absolutely love the Junior National Team meets and functions. I love everyone,” he said. “They’re all so nice, it’s nice knowing other people with similar goals to you like that.”

“I never really thought of myself doing that because I wasn’t necessarily the best swimmer, very good, until maybe like two years ago.”

Urlando is committed to the University of Georgia as a member of the class of 2024. The choice to become a Bulldog was an easy one: Urlando’s parents met while in school at Georgia and remain big fans – and his father, a track & field athlete, still holds discus program records.

At the 2018 NCAA Championships, his Juniors 200 fly time would have made the A-final, and he’s poised to do something special in the hands of head coach Jack Bauerle, who has recently produced stellar 200 butterfliers in Gil Stovall, Mark Dylla, Pace Clark, Gunnar Bentz, as well as IMers in Bentz, Chase Kalisz, and Jay Litherland.

“I never really thought of myself doing that because I wasn’t necessarily the best swimmer, very good, until maybe like two years ago,” Urlando told SwimSwam. “I started swimming when I was six for like a summer rec league and then I joined a year-round league when I was 10 or 11, and I continued doing other sports until I was 12, like basketball and water polo, soccer, stuff like that.”

He was “best” at swimming, so it stuck. “It was more or less the most fun, too,” Urlando said.

“He and his parents understood the process and the communication with the coaching staff was there,” DART Swimming coach Billy Doughty told SwimSwam via email, noting that the team never discourages swimmers from partaking in other sports. “We talked about the increased workload (intensity) happening around 13. Luca always seemed to enjoy swimming so the transition was seamless.”

“Some swimmers work hard only on the sets that their coach has a watch. I watch Luca do great things as we build up in warmup.”

Urlando’s path to choosing swimming was fairly textbook – so what took him to the next level over the past few years?

“The difference with Luca is twofold,” Doughty said. “First, he works the details when instructed. If I ask him to kick 8 kicks off a wall, he does it and continues to do it. It becomes part of his routine. Second thing is he works hard on all sets. Some swimmers work hard only on the sets that their coach has a watch. I watch Luca do great things as we build up in warmup. He holds himself accountable.”

Much of DART’s membership is 12 & under swimmers, so even at his relatively young age, Urlando is in a position of leadership.

“I have a pretty good relationship with most of the younger kids, especially because we have a decent amount of team functions we go to,” he said. But his approach to swimming is reaching older teammates as well.

“He made a comment to the senior group the other day that I liked,” Doughty said. “He said, ‘when I get to a big meet, I don’t get that nervous because I know I have put in the work.’ Simple thought, but very hard to achieve for elite swimmers.”

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Bartholomew Diaz

“I’m good because I work harder than other people,” is essentially what I got out of this article. Seems like a nice kid but once you get to the college level you don’t beat people by working harder than them; you beat people because you can take the hard work and still swim fast. It’s too much for some people and it doesn’t matter if you’re a hard worker or if you have boatloads of talent. The difficulty of training will beat you into the dirt.


When you get to the college level and you already go the time this kid goes, you beat other people. Period.
DART practices aren’t nothing, either.


And what makes you an expert on why college swimmers are successful? I guarantee that this kid knows more about what it takes to swim fast than you do.


What a strange response. Anyhoo… looking forward to seeing what this young man does in the future. So unreal just when you think you’ve seen THE most amazing phenom of an age group swimmer… here comes another. This sport just keeps getting more exciting and attracting more high level athletes. Great for the sport.

2 Cents

What stuck out to me was the picking of his teachers… in high school. Who does that, or who CAN do that in high school?? If he is looking for the easy way out and cutting academic corners, he didn’t choose the wrong college… but there are certainly a lot out there that would happily provide easier options for him…


Oh my gootness more noncense to deal with. In this sport when you are a national level athlete you miss a lot of school. Decisions have to be made and sometimes to perform at a level required to break national age group records, the sport does have to come first. It’s a delicate balance and it DOES require understanding teachers and some are NOT. Some teachers resent athletes. Luca was just being honest and real and I appreciate that. What an outstanding marvel of an athlete he is. I’m seriously in awe…keep doin what you’re doin Luca.

Justin Wright

Please make sure to verify with every High School in the nation before making a claim about every high school in the nation.

2 Cents

What claim was made about every high school in the nation?


Urlando was just being honest, some teachers are understanding and more flexible about timing of turning in assignments or alternatives to in class work than others.

Justin Wright

The hard part is that you aren’t wrong at all. College swimming takes age group phenoms, chews em up and spits em out. Most can’t handle the intensity.

Where you go wrong is relating that to Luca right now. There’s no reason to assume he won’t do great. Honestly, Luca hasn’t even been on the big stage for a year. I don’t know what he does or is capable of, and forgive my assumption if I’m wrong, but you almost certainly don’t know much about him.

I like remaining optimistic about young guys. These days, they don’t tend to disappoint.


I don’t think B. Diaz is saying that he won’t do well. He’s just pointing out the obvious, which is that you have to be super talented to succeed in Div I college swimming. It’s more than just working hard; you also need to be able to take the work day in and day out, and be able to recover from one session to the next to do well. If you’re super good and have the ability and talent to do this, like Luca, then chances are that you’ll do great. However, if you are a hard worker, but don’t have the talent, then you won’t be able to be a world-class swimmer like Luca. That’s true for any sport.


These comments are acting like D-1 college swimming is a *different sport* from elite national-level club swimming, and that’s silly. It might be true for a sport like football where the athletes are much bigger/stronger/faster in college and the training is more tense and year-round. But most elite HS swimmers (and Urlando is the elite of the elite — literally the fastest 16 yr old in history) are already training 8-10 times per week and 50 weeks per year. They are more prepared to make the progression from HS to college than almost any other athlete in any other sport out there. This kid is not a big sprinter relying on raw talent. He’s a 1:40 2-flyer. You can’t fake… Read more »

^^SwimGeek makes a valid point. There are certainly more out-of-the-pool commitments, and more time management (though, one might argue that college athletes have a lot more help than the average state-school student wrt time management), but if the training in college were such a great leap from elite club training…well then I’d imagine a whole lot more than 3 swimmers (only 1 of whom was in college) would’ve had a better 200 LCM free than Urlando last season. If they’re training ‘harder’ and still going slower…well there’s a lot of conclusions that could be drawn from that, but none of the ones I’d draw is that he’s going to get into Bauerle’s pool and suddenly get crushed. There is validity… Read more »


I disagree. Anyone that has swum in a big-time Div I college program will tell you that the speed and intensity of the practices is very different from high school. Some people are able to take it, and some are not, even if they were great in high school. Also, going Urlando’s times requires a huge amount of talent; it’s more than just hard work and it’s naive to think otherwise. I personally think that he’ll be great in college, so I’m not trying to rain on the parade, but Diaz’s comment is logical.


DLSWIM – honest question, how long ago did you swim big-time D1? And how long ago did you swim club? Youth sports of all varieties have grown up a LOT in the last 10-15 years (for better or worse), so I’d love to know your experiences for context


DLSWIM, I swam at a Div I power 5 conference school and my club team practices in high school were significantly harder. In my college years I more fine tuned things and road a big four year taper from the work I put in at the club level. I trained fewer hours in college and did less yardage. Lifting was probably more intense in college, but overall, club was still harder.


Similar for me. Swam for a fully-funded D-1 team that placed top-20 at NCAAs. But I swam for a serious club team, and the training was more brutal in high school. Moreover, I had 7 hours of class per day in HS (and had AM practice at 4:30am). In college, with a normal course load of 15 semester hours, I had only 3 hours per day of class – and AM practice was 6am. It’s certainly harder for SOME swimmers — but the idea that college swimming is universally harder for all swimmers is not true. And when he walks onto deck as the fastest guy on the team day 1, it’s unlikely Urlando will be overwhelmed by any of… Read more »


Someone of Urlando’s caliber is not a “high school” swimmer.

In California, the fastest 50% of varsity high school swimmers do not train with their high school team, but rather have an ‘arrangement’ to train like 20+ hours per week with their club team.

My children’s coach was notorious for demanding his swimmers to hurry up and finish their dual meets (they got about 20 minutes break) so the real practice can begin.

Urlando will excel as a Bulldog!

2 Cents

No one is saying he wont do well. I am not saying he wont do well. By the way what was Bauerle suspended for the other year? was it something to do with another elite swimmer and their academics? someone remind me please.

Justin Wright

In my opinion, it’s not a different sport. It’s the same sport in an almost 100% different context. The jump from club to college has a wide variety of areas that are nearly a 180 degree flip from one to the other. You brought up plenty of the easy to see ones, but the harder stuff can hide itself very well. A few examples of drastic differences: Training, coaching, teammates, newly found independence, classes, meet schedules, and above all the intensity of competition. All of these can either go right or wrong, drastically affecting a career. And they are just a handful of examples. I hate saying this, but there is a massive degree of luck in that transition from… Read more »


Repeated you said that many age group phenoms get “chewed up and spit out” or that their failure is “dare you say, common.” Can you please give me some of these common examples? I love to follow the sport and have been following for many years and I am struggling to think of anyone that I consider a “phenom” who has failed in college. Either we have a different definition of phenom or a different definition of failure. Can you please elaborate with a specific example or two since it’s so common?

Swimfan – why don’t you predefine ‘phenom’ and ‘bust’ so that Justin has a foundation to work from, if he chooses to respond. Hate to see him put a list together just to have it undercut by a narrowing definition of ‘phenom’ or ‘bust.’

Utah utes

Just a short list… Missy Franklin, Rachel Bootsma, Elizabeth Pelton (not a cal fan but those ladies come to mind), Jasmine Tosky, Kylie Stewart, Paul Powers, Austin Surhoff, Austin Temple, Kyle Darmody, Kip Darmody, Clay Youngquist, Dax Hill, Carlos Omana, Sean Lehane, Sam Lewis (UNC), Matt Ellis, Sam McHugh, Evan Pinion, Bobby Bollier, Alex Valente, Reed Malone, Hugo Morris, Aaron Green, we have to admit Clark Smith and Will Licon have struggled to continue their good results. Countless, I think is the word that you’re looking for. This is just a few off the top of my head I remember from watching the past couple of years


I agree that it’s a bit naive to say that you are the best because you work harder than everyone else. One has no idea how hard everyone else in the world is working and I think we all know people who work their tails off but just don’t have the talent. To be world class it takes smart work (not just hard work) and incredible talent. Top athletes are different combinations of both (some more talented, some harder/smarter workers), but you need both elements. I don’t agree that college training is going to rock this kid. He’s already world class and while college swimming is hard, plenty of programs train smart and work at levels that are appropriate to… Read more »


It’s natural for him to credit hard work. Would you prefer he say “I’m more talented then everyone! And I work hard too.” ??


Great article, Torrey. The future is bright for Luca!

Stan Crump

This young man is a pleasure to watch. If he keeps his work ethic and his head on straight, he will be a phenomenal swimmer for many years to come.

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

Torrey is from Oakland, CA, and majored in media studies and American studies at Claremont McKenna College, where she swam distance freestyle for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team. Outside of SwimSwam, she has bylines at Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, SB Nation, and The Student Life newspaper.

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