By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
It may seem like Chad La Tourette has been a swimming staple on the national and international scene for years and years, but in reality, that’s not completely true.
His first international meet was less than five years ago at the 2007 World University Games, where he won gold in the 800 freestyle and established himself as someone to watch in the future.
And although he didn’t make the Olympic team at his first Trials in 2008, he said he left Omaha with a wealth of knowledge and experience that has served him well on the collegiate, national and international levels ever since.
“I remember that the meet (Trials) was unlike anything I’d ever been to physically and emotionally,” said La Tourette, who is nearing the end of his senior season at Stanford. “I regret not being able to relax before the bigger races.
“But in the last four years, I have gained a lot of confidence and become a lot better in both the physical and mental aspects of the sport.”
That race at WUGs in Bangkok, Thailand, stands out thus far as La Tourette’s most memorable moment in his young swimming career.
Although he admits he was pretty intimidated by the environment and older competition (he was just 17 at the time), he went into his race with a positive attitude and left with confidence and some gold hardware.
But it was at World Championship Trials two years earlier – when he reached his first final and consistently dropped time – where La Tourette admits he knew he belonged among the elite swimmers in the United States and world.
“I was 16 and barely qualified for the 1500 final, but I dropped a lot of time,” La Tourette said. “In the final, I dropped a lot more time and gained confidence in my ability to race at a national level. In terms of being able to compete at the international level, my breakout moment was definitely at 2007 World University Games.”
Now in his final semester at Stanford, along with preparing for Olympic Trials – where he thinks he has a strong opportunity to make the Olympic team headed to London – La Tourette is also planning for his future outside of the pool.
An earth systems major – focusing on environmental economics and market failure due to environmental problems – he is currently putting together his application for graduate school and remains undecided as to whether or not he will continue to swim competitively after this summer.
Whatever he does after Trials (and hopefully, the Olympics), La Tourette has enjoyed this last year as an undergrad and Cardinal swimmer to the fullest extent.
“This year so far has been great both in training and in the classroom,” he said. “One of my main goals that I set for myself was just to have fun and enjoy the end of the student-athlete experience. As the championship meets (Pac-10 and NCAA Championships) approach, I’ll be working more on details like my turns, as well as continuing to integrate shorter repeats that will give me the easy speed necessary for a 500 free or 400 individual medley.
“I’ve gotten a lot of confidence by learning to face challenges head-on. The biggest challenge to my swimming has always been my turns, and (Stanford Coach) Skip (Kenney) has helped me stay focused on bettering my turns among other details.”
Considering he has grown up a big fan of the Olympics, La Tourette firmly believes that he has a great shot at making this year’s team and is looking forward to an exciting, fun meet in Omaha.
But he also knows swimming is just a part – albeit an important one – of his life and isn’t all that he is or all that he wants.
“When the games were on, I’d watch every single sport,” said La Tourette, who admits he became serious about swimming after breaking his leg playing soccer when he was 13. “I think I have a good shot at making the team. I will do my best to challenge for spots in the 400 and 1500, and we have some top world-ranked guys in each. Both races will be exciting to watch at Trials.
“But I try to keep a good balance. I like to think that swimming is something I do but not who I am. The most important thing I will take from swimming into the future is the skill set it instills. Self-discipline and time management are two important values that I am thankful for learning through swimming.”