The Rancocas Valley graduate, who is an Olympic gold medalist and has been on 3 world-record relay teams, looks forward to swimming again in preparation for the delayed Olympic Trials and Olympics
Kelsi (Worrell) Dahlia’s shoulders haven’t felt this good in years.
While that would nearly always be good news, the reason Dahlia’s shoulders are better is she hasn’t been able to swim for more than a month due to the coronavirus pandemic, so there is no threat of overuse.
Dahlia is an Olympic gold medalist and has been part of three world record relay teams, including swimming the butterfly leg on the United States’ 4×100-meter medley relay that set the world record (3:50.40) in 2019.
These days, instead of preparing for the Olympic Trials originally scheduled for June, she had a heater installed to her temporary 9-foot by 12-foot iPool on Wednesday that will allow her to swim in the backyard attached to a stretch cord.
It’s been all dry-land training for Dahlia, who rented gym equipment and an assault bicycle from a local CrossFit gym, and has been working out in the garage of the Louisville home she shares with husband Thomas Dahlia, who is also a former Louisville swimmer.
“It’s hard for me to train by myself,” said Dahlia, a 2012 Rancocas Valley graduate. “I’m doing everything I can from home.”
While she has almost 14 months until the re-scheduled Olympic Trials in Omaha, Dahlia wants to be in the pool. And she understands some other world-class competitors have been able to continue swimming.
“Every day you take off is two days that it takes to get back in shape,” Dahlia said.
Compounding Dahlia’s disappointment is that she had been swimming extremely well. She won the 100 butterfly with a time of 57.33 on March 6 during a Tyr Pro Swim Series meet in Des Moines.
“It was one of my best in-season times,” Dahlia said. “I felt really good where I was in the sport. Just a few days later, everything stopped.”
Dahlia has been swimming for Cardinal Aquatics and the Louisville staff, including head coach Arthur Albiero, since arriving on campus eight years ago.
Following a record-setting high school career at Rancocas Valley, Dahlia became the first Olympic swimmer from Louisville in 2016. She won back-to-back NCAA championships in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly, establishing NCAA, American, and U.S. Open records with a time of 49.43 in the 100 fly. She was the first woman to break 50 seconds in the race and broke Natalie Coughlin’s 13-year-old record in the process.
Earning the Honda Award as the nation’s top collegiate swimmer in 2015-16 provided a fitting topper to Dahlia’s terrific four years at Louisville.
“She certainly has elevated not just our program but U of L athletics in general,” Albiero told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “There’s no greater ambassador.”
Dahlia was pleasantly surprised when she outlasted veteran Dana Vollmer to take the 100 fly at the 2016 Olympic Trials in Omaha and secure a berth in the Olympics.
“In some ways, I went into it as an underdog,” she said. “I was pretty confident I’d finish (in the top two), but I didn’t expect to win. It was my best swim ever.”
At the Olympics, she ended up ninth in the 100 butterfly semifinals, with the top eight advancing to the finals. She is essentially using the Olympic gold medal she won in Rio de Janeiro as a motivating factor for the Tokyo Olympics because Dahlia swam the butterfly leg in the U.S. qualifying heat before being replaced by individual gold medalist Vollmer in the finals.
“It didn’t happen the way I expected it to,” she said. “I wasn’t on the podium. It’s kept me hungry to keep working hard and training for another chance to represent the USA.”
At the 2019 World Championships, Dahlia’s 56.16 butterfly split in the third leg allowed the U.S. to maintain its lead in the 4×100 medley relay on the way to setting a world record that still stands. Regan Smith, Lilly King and Simone Manuel joined her on the star-studded quartet.
“I just tried to tell myself ‘Don’t mess this up. Finish well,’” she said with a laugh. “I swam the best I ever have. I was so relieved. It was the best feeling to finish off that meet, having done my part for the relay team. It was a special swim.”
Dahlia holds the American records in the 50 butterfly (25.48, which she has done in each of the past three years) and short-course — 25-meter pool — American records in the 50 fly (24.93), 100 fly (54.84) and 200 fly (2:01.73) in 2018.
The 25-year-old Dahlia is devoting a great deal of attention to the Olympic Trials, which have been moved to June 13-20, 2021, and the ensuing Olympics (July 23-Aug. 8, 2021). She’s not thinking beyond that point.
“If I still enjoy it, I’ll keep going,” Dahlia said. “I’m also excited for whatever’s next in life, like having a family.”
Tom Moore: [email protected]; @TomMoorePhilly