When the 2016 Summer Olympic Games begin in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, come August, fans of UGA athletics will have an extra reason to cheer for Team U.S.A.
Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland both qualified for the Rio Games after finishing first and second in the 400-meter individual medley at the United States Olympic Trials on Sunday. The event, held in Omaha, Nebraska, gave Georgia its first two American swimmers to ever qualify for the Olympics.
Kalisz won the event, finishing first with a time of 4:09.54. His teammate was close behind him, as Litherland finished the race in 4:11.02.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the duo’s showing in the race was who they beat out to clinch spots on the U.S. men’s swimming team.
Ryan Lochte, who has won 11 Olympic medals (including five gold), led the 400-meter race Sunday until the 200-meter mark. From there, Kalisz and Litherland ran him down and booted him out of contention for a spot on the nation’s 400 IM team.
After the event, Litherland credited Georgia’s coaches, including legendary head coach Jack Bauerle, for he and Kalisz’s success. The Bulldogs’ swimming and diving team is consistently one of the best in the nation, and Kalisz and Litherland represented it well.
They caught the eye of arguably the best American swimmer of all time, too.
Michael Phelps sought out Kalisz after the event and met up with him on deck. Phelps told reporters he considers Kalisz a good friend, saying he cried when he hugged him after the event. Phelps said Kalisz deserved to win given all his hard work. That’s quite an endorsement, and should only increase Kalisz’s star power going into the Olympics.
Kalisz and Litherland will both return to Georgia after the Olympics, as Kalisz redshirted this past season to prepare for the Rio Games and has one more year of eligibility. Litherland is a rising junior.
Georgia fans everywhere probably want them to come back with Olympic medals, too.