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.”