At the 2016 Olympic Trials, UofL’s own Zach Harting qualified for the final heat of the men’s 200 meter butterfly that included Michael Phelps. At the time he was the first Louisville male swimmer to ever qualify for the finals of any event at the USA Swimming Olympic Trials. Tonight he made even more history by becoming the first Louisville-trained male swimmer to ever make Team USA.
After falling behind by nearly two seconds in the semifinals for the 200 meter butterfly, Harting turned on the jets to chase down and out-touch Cal swimmer Trenton Julian on the final lap. That exciting performance not only got Harting into the final heat, but qualified him as co-top seed with Georgia-trained Luca Urlando.
The 200m fly finals were nearly just as exciting as the semis as Harting once again paced himself early, and after the first 100 meters he was back in fourth place. But after the third lap Harting actually beat the time from his second lap and had pulled himself into third. On the last lap he once again turned on the afterburners and finished the race with a relatively comfortable lead of 0.3 seconds ahead of second place finisher Gunnar Bentz and Urlando in third, and punched his ticket to Tokyo as the top qualifier in the 200m fly.
Just before signing his name on the honorary Team USA drum, a privilege exclusive to only those who have earned a spot in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Harting said, “A lot of people work their whole lives and give up on their dreams from when they were children. They get told that’s not how the world works when they grow up. And for me ever since I was seven and I started swimming, my dream was to represent the US at the Olympics. Not a whole bunch of people get to turn their dreams into reality. I’m really grateful for that…That’s just dreams coming true.”
With the retirement of three-time 200 fly gold medalist and five-time Olympian Michael Phelps, the 200 fly was considered one of the most open events in the U.S. Swim Trials. There is definitely a feeling that with Phelps gone there is a some sort of “changing of the guards” within the sport. When asked about stepping into the spot Phelps once held Harting said, “Obviously those are big shoes to fill. I wake up every day to get better and to represent the U.S.. At this stage, as big as it is, I’m not going to let anybody down.”
Harting wasn’t swimming all on his own as former teammate and current UofL swimmer Nick Albiero, Louisville Coach Albiero’s son, also made the final heat and finished in an outstanding fourth place. Nick Albiero won the NCAA Championship in the 200m fly earlier this year. Albiero is Louisville native who made a name for himself while competing for Christian Academy of Louisville and is a bright young start that I wouldn’t be shocked to see in the 2024 Paris Olympics.
To see how far Coach Albiero has brought the Louisville swimming program is truly special. In all, Louisville had 17 current swimmers and four former Cardinals, who have now turned pro, make the second round of what is lauded as the toughest swim meet in the country. Louisville is now recognized as a national powerhouse in the sport and there is no doubting how much of an impact Albiero has made on both this program and the swimmers themselves. Following the race, Harting went over to his family and friends for a quick hug and then ran over to see his former teammates and embrace Coach Albiero.
These are certainly special times for UofL Swimming and Diving, but the fun isn’t over just yet! There are still four more nights of swimming to go and plenty of Louisville swimmers still in the hunt for a spot in Tokyo. However, reigning 2016 US Swim Trials Women’s 100m Butterfly Champion and former Cardinal Kelsi Dahlia (formerly Worrell), was upset in the finals by teenage phenoms Torri huske and Claire Curzan and finished fourth overall. The meet continues on tomorrow night on NBCSN at 6:30pm EST and NBC at 10:00pm EST.