After Imperfect Summer, Austin Katz Hungry For More Success

austin-katz
Austin Katz wasn't satisfied with his summer despite winning an international gold and national title. Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

On the outside looking in, Austin Katz’s summer seemed pretty good. He was the gold medalist in the World University Games in the 200 back, putting up a 1:55.57 for fifth in the world rankings, winning the final by nearly two and a half seconds. That swim ranked him second in the nation behind reigning Olympic champion Ryan Murphy. A month later at US Nationals, he won his first national title on the senior level with a 1:55.72.

It seemed like an A+ summer for Katz, who is now in his junior year at the University of Texas. But in looking back at his gold medal swim from the World University Games, Katz was still picking nits.

“I think it could have been a lot better,” Katz said. “There were some things technique wise that should have been better. Overall it was a really overwhelming swim for me, I was disappointed in it.”

“But it’s more fuel for the upcoming year in training.”

So what went wrong?

“There were definitely some logistical things that affected my swimming,” he told Swimming World. “It was a sweat box in the pool. I was trying to put my suit on and I was covered in a layer of sweat and it was impossible to put a suit on. I was constantly dehydrated, having to drink and drink and drink. It wasn’t the best that it could have gone.”

Katz didn’t want to sulk in the imperfect conditions in the pool and didn’t want to place blame anywhere else. Obviously, conditions won’t always work 100% in your favor, something that he and the rest of the athletes at the World University Games had to learn. Some of the swimmers’ flights got delayed, causing a few of them to not show up to Italy until the day before the meet started. Luckily, Katz didn’t have to deal with any of that adversity, aside from some of the cruise ship food that caused him to feel sick at times during the Games. But when he got home from Italy, he had lost up to 12 pounds from dehydration.

He had a couple more weeks to prepare for the US Nationals in a more familiar environment where he was hoping for a much faster swim; one that he knew he was capable of.

“The second taper is always kind of wonky,” he said.

Nonetheless, he was confident because he knew a 1:54 was possible from himself at Nationals. For reference, a 1:54 would have won a medal at the last two World Championships, and would certainly be a springboard for a potential Olympic berth next summer for Austin Katz.

But when the time came for the 200 back final in Palo Alto, he slipped on the start.

It wasn’t as disastrous as Elizabeth Beisel’s slip in the 2014 US Nationals or Simone Sabbioni’s at the recent World Championships, but it was enough to incite panic in Katz, who had already dealt with enough adversity at the World University Games. But he quickly came back to Earth.

“I thought to myself, it was time to be mentally strong and to do my own race and take it out a lot faster than how I usually do. I just stopped thinking and a lot of times with races, I try to just let go of thoughts and just race.

“That was really what I tried to do and just be in the moment and race the person next to me.”

There were some positives he took from the summer: the slip caused him to take it out much faster but still be able to come back fast on the last 50. But he still was disappointed with another 1:55.

“I just know I had a lot more in me,” Austin Katz said. “Eddie and I both agreed I should have been a lot faster.”

“Going into next year it gives me a lot more confidence with everything.”

Back at School

john shebat austin katz texas longhorns 200 Backstroke, 2019 NCAA DI Men's Championship, Day 4 Finals, Katz Austin, Shebat John

Katz (right) with John Shebat at NCAAs; Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Austin Katz is now in his junior season at the University of Texas. As a freshmen, he was the NCAA champion in the 200 back, which helped the Longhorns squeak out a 12 point win over Cal for the school’s fourth straight NCAA title.

His sophomore year saw him finish second in the 200 back at NCAAs behind senior teammate John Shebat as the two Longhorns went 1-2 in their home pool. But Texas wound up in the runner-up spot, a foreign feeling for the team that hadn’t lost an NCAAs since 2014.

Losing in your home pool and in front of dozens of alumni who made the trip back doesn’t feel good, so what was the overall emotion after last year’s meet?

“No one enjoys getting second,” Katz said. “I think we hate to lose more than we like to win and I think that is a really important part of who we are. We were happy with what we had done and I think it’s important to emphasize what you’ve done and then be upset about the results and take that out in the pool later. I think that was the general consensus for everyone.”

“We wanted to enjoy what we did really well and focus on getting better because I think channeling that negative energy isn’t benefitting anyone and just looks bad on your character. I think that’s something we wanted to bottle up and use it in training later on.”

Austin Katz’s 2019-20 Campaign

austin-katz-

Photo Courtesy: Connor Trimble

This year Texas is coming in not as the defending national champions. That distinction belongs to Cal, who has become Texas’ chief rival over the last decade. The Longhorns and Golden Bears have finished first and second in some order every year this decade except one, when Michigan topped Cal in 2013. This year the target is no longer on Texas’ back, although Katz doesn’t feel that way.

“Texas is always going to have a target on their back. All teams have a target on their back,” Austin Katz said.

“Acting like there’s that chip on your shoulder is always going to give you an edge in training. I think always acting like you’re the underdog and always training like you’re the underdog is really important.”

The Longhorns graduated a lot of talent last year with the likes of Shebat, Townley Haas and Tate Jackson moving on to professional swimming careers. They also gained a lot of talent with Jake FosterEthan Harder and Caspar Corbeau, among others, who have benefitted greatly to the strong team already in place in Austin.

“Last year I thought the team was so close. The work ethic and just the culture was very unique.”

“But this year I think it is doubled.

“There are people in practice throwing some crazy times. Jake Foster is lighting the pool on fire. It’s insane. These new freshmen are really pushing us to go even faster and wanting to be better because we don’t want these youngins beating us in practice. It’s a lot of fun and everyone is really enjoying the “Rocktober.”

But the biggest acquisition of the entire off-season came in March when NCAA All-American Maxime Rooney announced he was leaving the University of Florida and transferring to Texas.

“I love Maxime,” Katz said, who swam with him at the 2015 World Juniors in Singapore. “I’ve known him for a really long time and he is one of those people who is an incredibly hard worker and is super diligent about the people next to him. He is just a really good teammate. I’ve worked with him a ton on turns this year because that is one of the weaker aspects and he has been super beneficial with me for that. I’m just really happy to have him.”

Rooney is coming off a great summer of his own, putting himself in the top ten in the world in both the 100 free and 100 fly from his times at US Nationals. Cal is still ranked number one in the nation and has a really stacked team returning this year. But with the addition of Rooney, Texas is still a serious player in the national title race.

Maybe this year, Texas is finally the underdog. And that’s exactly how they want to keep it.