At the end of an athletic season in which multiple UofL sports teams were forced to deal with some awfully low lows, Kelsi Worrell is in the midst of experiencing one of the highest highs a Cardinal athlete has ever achieved.
In front of a national television audience on NBC Monday night, Worrell became the first American swimmer from UofL ever to qualify for the Olympic Games by dominating her competition in the 100-fly.
The fact that Worrell swam the second fastest 100-fly in the world and bested the 2012 gold medalist in the event, Dana Vollmer, in the finals would indicate that the 21-year-old UofL product is now one of the favorites to bring home the gold medal from Rio.
â€œI wasnâ€™t expecting to touch first,â€ Worrell admitted about her victory. â€œIt was emotional hearing that and then seeing my time on the board. Itâ€™s a dream come true. This is what Iâ€™ve been training for all year long and what Iâ€™ve been dreaming about my entire life.â€
Making the achievement even sweeter was the fact that Worrell qualified for the Olympics in front of UofL swimming and diving Head Coach Arthur Albiero, who is serving as one of the coaches for the U.S. national team this summer. Albiero, who had previously helped coach five international Cardinal swimmers to the Olympics, said that getting an American swimmer from UofL to the sportâ€™s biggest stage was the next major step for the programâ€™s evolution.
â€œI keep hearing from people watching on television that UofL was getting a lot of love,â€ Albiero said. â€œI think itâ€™s huge for our athletic department, huge for our program to show that weâ€™re a world-class program. Weâ€™ve had a number of international Olympians, and this was the next step that was missing on our resume as a program to really create, not just manage, but create a U.S. Olympian. I think what Kelsi has been able to put together, obviously sheâ€™s got the talent, got the personality, and all the variables. All we tried to do was create an environment to be very successful.â€
The trip to Rio will be the bow on top of what has been another massive year for Worrell, who will leave Louisville as the most decorated individual athlete in the history of Cardinal athletics.
Worrell kicked off 2015-16 by winning three medals, including a gold in the 100-fly, at the 2015 Pan American Games. She then became a world record holder in the 400 short course meter medley relay thanks to her teamâ€™s performance at the 2015 Duel in the Pool in Indianapolis. Toss in a pair of NCAA championships, another year of All-American honors, an American record and becoming the first woman in history to swim the 100-yard butterfly in under 50 seconds, and yeah, youâ€™ve got a nice little year.
World domination wasnâ€™t always in the cards for Worrell. In the early years of her swimming career, Worrell struggled to control her asthma, making thoughts of one day qualifying for the Olympics seem far more fantasy than goal. It wasnâ€™t until she arrived at UofL and worked with Albiero that she was able to make the adjustments necessary to control her attacks.
â€œWhen I came into college, I knew that I would need to be mentally tougher,â€ she said. â€œThere are some days when I am weak and canâ€™t control it, but I think those are the days that ultimately make me stronger. Thereâ€™s no doubt in my mind that I wouldnâ€™t be where I am right now if I hadnâ€™t come to Louisville.â€
Worrell has set records and made history consistently since arriving at UofL four years ago. Now, thereâ€™s only one bullet point left to add to her vaunted resume: Olympic gold medalist. The city will be watching. VT