“Anything I could, I’d race him on,” Kalisz said. “I’m sure he was thinking, ‘What the heck is he doing?’ But he’s the best, so why not try to beat him?”
Phelps added: “I literally just watched him take off, and it was on backstroke, too. And I said: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I didn’t expect him to straight school me. Chase is something that’s very special. He’s a very talented kid.”
They would joke around during breaks in the pool. Away from the water, they would see who could eat the most and would play “Call of Duty” at night.
“I can beat him all the time. He’s garbage in Xbox,” Kalisz said. “He likes to think he’s better than me; he likes to tell me I’m bad, but I’m way better than him.”
But Kalisz learned from Phelps as well.
He saw firsthand how Phelps focused intensely during training; how he feared nobody in the pool; how he swam his own race and didn’t allow for distractions.
In 2011, Kalisz lowered his personal best in the 400 IM from 4:26.97 to 4:18.43, a time he achieved at the USA National Championships in August.
By USA Olympic Team Trials in June 2012, his personal best was down to 4:16.86, just four-tenths of a second from the Olympic “A” standard.
There in Omaha, Neb., Kalisz qualified for the 400 IM and 200 IM finals.
Maybe it was the fact that he was distracted by the fireworks going off in the arena or the tens of thousands cheering fans, he said, but he finished just sixth in the 400 IM and fifth in the 200 IM, his second-best event.
His role model, however, breezed through the competition as he qualified for eight events at the London Olympics.
“[Being distracted] definitely never happened before,” Kalisz said. “But I think, now, I handle pressure pretty well. Learning from Michael, he’s taught me so many ways to cope with everything.”
Out of the shadow
As Phelps retired, Kalisz said, he felt he was finally ready to put what he learned into action.
He corrected form with his backstroke — it's the one stroke he said he's made the most improvements on —and he practiced in the pool four days a week in a pair of two-hour sessions. He also did dry workouts six days a week.
On Aug. 23, at the Junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, he cut more than three seconds off his personal best in the 400 IM to 4:12.59 en route to a meet-record victory.
He then enrolled at the University of Georgia this past school year, where he was able to train with Schmitt and coach Jack Bauerle in Athens.
“We’re the recipient of a very darn good kid here,” Bauerle said. “He’s very open to coaching, and honestly, he’s just a very good team member.”
As a freshman, he won the 200- and 400-yard IMs at the Southeastern Conference Championships. He also was a member of the Bulldogs’ 800-yard freestyle relay team.