Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - June 29, 2012

Trying to out-distance disappointment

Stanford grad Chad La Tourette eyes Olympic team berth in 1500 free after finishing third in 2008

by Caroline Martin

Swimming in the 2012 Olympic Games would be the "culmination of a dream" said Stanford senior Chad La Tourette.

"It's what every kid dreams about and making it would be opening the door to another opportunity," La Tourette said.

La Tourette knows exactly what to expect this year though, as he competed in 2008 for a shot at the Beijing Games at just 19, postponing his freshman year at Stanford.

Barely missing the cut and taking third in the 1500-meter freestyle, he was not able to travel on to Beijing and compete. He needed to be among the top two.

"It was difficult," La Tourette said. "At first it felt like I did it all for nothing."

He continued to travel and train at different sites, but with an eat-sleep-swim daily routine and his entire schedule focused on training, he longed to regain balance.

"It was nice to clear my head for a while, but sometimes it's hard not to get bored or antsy training all the time," said La Tourette.

Four years later, La Tourette has been anything but bored with national titles, record-setting times and international medals. With a growing legacy both with the Cardinal and across the world, La Tourette has proven tough to beat.

He certainly hopes that will be the case when he competes in the 1500-meter free prelims on Sunday and finals on Monday at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb. He is the top American at that distance this year and a big favorite to earn a trip to the Summer Games in London, England.

He missed a possible Olympic berth in the 400 free on Monday when he failed to reach the finals. Nonetheless, the 1500 free is his best event. He ranks No. 1 in the USA this season at 15:06.73, which leaves him only No. 19 in the world.

La Tourette has enjoyed nothing but success at Stanford during his four years, which wrapped up this spring.

As a freshman, sophomore and junior he took home the Pac-10 Conference title in the 1650-yard freestyle. Each year he also placed in the top two at NCAA's, taking home the 1650 freestyle national title as just a sophomore.

La Tourette is the all-time top performer in Stanford history in the 1650 free and ranks among the top 10 for the 500 free and 1000 free for head coach Skip Kenney.

Before the 2011-2012 season had even begun, La Tourette was in the top 50 of all-time NCAA point scorers for Stanford.

As a team, Stanford has won the conference title for 31 straight years.

One would think La Tourette felt the pressure to continue this streak, but it appears it comes only from within.

"I put pressure on myself," said La Tourette. "Coaches want to see you do well, but they're also very focused on the team effort which takes pressure off. It's just swimming fast and having fun with your friends," he said.

While many college athletes decide to forego their senior season to train and focus on the Games, La Tourette decided to stay. With the consistent practice and competition schedule on the collegiate level, training remained challenging and interactive.

"The ability to race so much in the season is valuable training that will make short and long course better," he said earlier in the year. "I can consistently focus on things I need to get better on."

La Tourette has gained four years of powerful competition and training, both on collegiate and international levels.

"It's been four years of blood, sweat and tears and it means a lot to represent the program," said La Tourette. "I respect my coaches a lot and it's an honor to represent them and the values they've instilled in me."

A native of Mission Viejo, the water has never been very foreign to La Tourette. He has always been around the pool, from attending summer league with his family as a kid to water sports with friends.

"In terms of competitive swimming, growing up there (in Orange County) facilitated it," said La Tourette. "In Mission Viejo, it's a natural option."

After breaking his leg playing youth soccer he started to really focus his attention on swimming and at about age 12, began swimming competitively. Hardly after starting his swimming career, Stanford was in the picture.

"It (Stanford) has always been a dream school for me," said La Tourette. "I got to see it when I was young, probably when I was 10, and definitely since I was eight I wanted to go there."

His dream of the Olympics wasn't any different.

"A lot of kids say 'I want to go (to the Olympics)', but I took it seriously before 2008," said La Tourette.

With another opportunity to fulfill his dream and make the U.S. Olympic team, La Tourette's mindset has changed since 2008.

"You have more confidence," La Tourette said. "To race here (at Stanford) and have international experience, it helps me measure against the guys. Knowing it's a long road to catch up keeps sights high," he said.

Diverse training practices and formats, both club and school, have also prepared him differently.

"The biggest thing is integrated training here at Stanford," said La Tourette. "In preparation for last time it was just my club. I get a lot out of balancing aspects from each program," he said.

Whether that balance pays off on a trip to London this summer will be determined on Monday, the final day of the Olympic Trials. That's when the 1500 finals will be held. Only the top two earn a berth in the Olympics. The prelims will be Sunday, which should be a mere formality for La Tourette.

"There's always nerves, but I try to enjoy the journey," said La Tourette. "Hopefully I'll be at the top of my game when they roll around."

Looking back on his wildly successful four years at Stanford, it's the camaraderie that he will take with him.

"The times we won stand out, but the most fun times are with my teammates outside the context of the pool," said La Tourette. "It's the group you're with all the time. You're going to grow up with them. It's the growing up experiences," he said.

La Tourette leaves a humble legacy and team-centered attitude with the program.

"The most important, is feeling fortunate that you can do this every day and work hard as a team," he said.

The opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games are less than a month away, and La Tourette hopes the long road from Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center will end for him at the Aquatic Centre in Hyde Park, London.

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