Notre Dame swimming standout prepared to chase his 2024 Olympic dream at trials in Indy

SOUTH BEND — For more than 23 minutes on a Monday afternoon that felt more like fall than summer, Notre Dame swimmer Chris Guiliano did something he hoped to avoid doing this week.

Nothing.

Guiliano folded his 6-foot-5, 208-pound frame into an Irish gold chair in a Joyce Center office to discuss how he planned to spend those days with so few athletic obligations and zero academic appointments while on the cusp of, well, the biggest nine days of his swim life.

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He moved from his apartment and into the eight-person house five minutes from campus that he’ll share with six fellow seniors/teammates for his senior year in 2024-25. He went to dinner with his mother, who made the nearly 10-hour trek from the family’s home in Douglassville, Pennsylvania. He watched Game Two of the NBA Finals. He watched Game Two of the Stanley Cup finals.

Every night also brought another competitive/cutthroat round of Mario Kart (favorite character Shy Guy, favorite course Peach Garden) with teammates.

He got in the pool. He got on the weights. He did anything to keep moving so he didn’t have to think of the proverbial elephant in the room, until he had to sit and talk of the elephant in the room.

As he spoke Monday afternoon, you could sense it there in the corner, right next to the blue and gold Swim Like a Champion Today sign.

Winning meets and swimming record-setting times have become common for Notre Dame senior Chris Guiliano.
Winning meets and swimming record-setting times have become common for Notre Dame senior Chris Guiliano.

Only after there was nothing left in the day, only when he hit the point of absolute exhaustion, did the wheels in Guiliano’s mind spin toward this weekend and the United States Olympic team swim trials.

By now, he’ll have made the nearly straight-line drive from campus to Indianapolis, where he aims to earn a spot on the U.S. team for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“I try to keep my mind off it as much as I can, aside from when I actually put my head on the pillow at night and I start thinking about it,” said Guiliano, who turns 21 on June 25, two days after the trials end. “I try to put the perfect visualization together.”

He visualized standing there on the block while ignoring the mass of everything ahead of him. Lucas Oil Stadium, which towers over a southwest section of the city, is home to the trials. It’s a football venue. It’s a basketball Final Four venue. It's a concert venue.

This month, it’s a swimming venue, maybe the largest ever. Anywhere. Capacity will push toward 30,000. Two pools — one for competition, one for warm–ups — were specially constructed for the event. When Guiliano steps inside Lucas Oil for practice this weekend, it will be the first time he’s set foot in the place.

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In early March, while back on campus and helping the men to a 10th place national finish, Guiliano flipped on the NFL combine, also held at Lucas Oil, to maybe get a sense of what the trials might look like and feel like and be like.

It didn’t work. That place is just so ... big.

“I can’t imagine it,” he said. “It’s going to be beautiful. You can’t really put it into words.”

Same goes for Guiliano’s journey in this sport from someone who went from kind of/sort of liking to swim to being on the brink of being the fastest in the country to do it for the ultimate amateur honor.

There was just something about swimming

What if...

It’s a question Guiliano occasionally asks when asked how he got his start in swimming. He was eight years old. He went to a swim workout with his brother, Joseph, four years his senior, back in Berks County, which sits on the banks of the Schuylkill River. It was a hot day. It was a find-a-pool kind of a day.

What if that day was like Monday in South Bend when it was cool and breezy and decidedly fall-like? Would Guiliano jump in the pool, as he did that day? Would he have stuck with his sports of his choice of baseball, football and soccer?

What if he had decided to just sit and watch?

“I don’t know if I’d even be doing sports or where I’d be right now,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today. I owe it all to swimming.”

Football was Guiliano’s game until seventh grade. Then he was headed for the end zone before being caught from behind at the 1-yard-line. The tackle caused a hairline hip fracture that forced Guiliano to miss six weeks. That was the beginning of the end of football. Basketball permanently went on the shelf the following year. Soccer soon followed.

There was something about swimming that did it for him.

“I just love it,” he said. “I knew that I had to love it. I wouldn’t say that I forced myself to love it, but I do.

“It’s just given me a drive and a purpose.”

And success. So much success. Guiliano was a three-time team most valuable swimmer and an All-American in high school. He set five school records. He earned first team all-state honors in 2020. He dreamed of going to Notre Dame, a school that wasn’t nationally known for its swim programs.

Guiliano would help change that narrative. His name is splashed all over the record book. He holds the top school mark in five events — the 50, 100 and 200-yard freestyle and the 50 and 100-meter freestyle. In February, he won four Atlantic Coast Conference championships — 50, 100, 200 freestyle and the 400 free relay — and was the conference swimmer of the year. He earned All-American honors in six events this past season, five first team and one honorable mention.

“This is just what I was meant to do in my eyes,” he said. “This is my purpose. I feel like I was born to do this and do this here. It’s special to do it at Notre Dame.”

Notre Dame coach Chris Lindauer saw something in Guiliano that he likely didn’t see in himself. During Guiliano’s freshman year, Lindauer was the coach at conference rival Louisville when he noticed Guiliano at a meet. He was good that day and that year while setting school records in the 50 and the 100.

He had untapped potential to be great.

“I watched him and was like, ‘That guy’s got it,’” Lindauer said. “He was as raw as raw could be. He was that diamond in the rough. As soon as I had the opportunity to coach him, it was like, ‘OK, this could be good.’”

How good? As a freshman, Guiliano’s top time in the 100 freestyle long course was 51 seconds. By the end of his sophomore season – his first with Lindauer – he was at 47.9 seconds. He made the world championship team and was second in the entire U.S.

He was good. World-class good. Olympic hopeful good.

“A lot of that was learning specifics on training and technique and all of that,” Lindauer said. “A lot of that, too, wad the mental game — why not Notre Dame? Why not you, Chris? Why can’t we do it here?

“We can.”

They have.

Notre Dame swimmer Chris Guiliano has his sights set on Paris and reprenting the United States in the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Notre Dame swimmer Chris Guiliano has his sights set on Paris and reprenting the United States in the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Is Paris a realistic option? Why not

Stay away. Don’t talk to him. Don’t go near him. Go away. Twenty minutes before Guiliano takes the block in Indianapolis in his three events — the 50, 100 and 200 freestyles — coaches, teammates, family and friends will know to give him space. Plenty of space.

Affable and easy-going, Guiliano throws a switch before he races. He locks in on the task ahead. He becomes someone else. He shuts out everything and everyone and just focuses. He hears and sees nothing. Only his task.

Even at the trials, he insists that he doesn’t know who is ranked above or below or near him for his three events. Don’t know. Don’t want to know. He doesn’t look at this guy or that guy or those guys as his rabbits or his rivals. It’s him. It’s the pool. It’s the clock. Then it’s, let’s see where it all leads.

To victory? To Paris?

“With this sport, you can’t really have any expectations,” Guiliano said. “You can have them, but just knowing that you go out there and did your best, that’s as much as you can ask for.

“I trust my training. I’m prepared.”

Guiliano has worked to not make this week bigger than it is, but it is big. Huge. He knows it. Lindauer knows it. Guiliano is one of 900 swimmers with the same dream. Wear red, white and blue. See Paris. Bring home some hardware.

This is a stage that Guiliano has never been on. He has raced all over the world — Fukuoka, Japan in 2023, for instance — which has helped him understand that it’s just him and the water and the stopwatch.

Guiliano’s first race Sunday is the 200 freestyle semifinals. His last would be the 50-freestyle final on Friday, June 21. To get to Paris, he’ll need to advance from the prelims to the semifinals to the finals, where a top two finish with an Olympic qualifying time guarantees one of the team’s 52 spots (26 men, 26 women).

“He’s been fortunate to have some experiences like the world championships to help set him up,” Lindauer said. “It’s certainly a new environment, but it’s also an exciting environment where we want him to own it and embrace it and take it in and ultimately enjoy it.

“It’s the best of everything.”

Everything that Guiliano has done in his two years with Lindauer has been done with one purpose. Every workout, every stroke, every training session is another piece to the puzzle of getting Guiliano to the podium in Paris. To be great. To win gold.

“He knows it; he believes in it,” Lindauer said. “The buy-in is there.”

As is pressure. But is it? When Guiliano mentioned the trials, he talked of staying composed and having fun and winning. But the pressure?

“Pressure is a privilege as we say around here,” Guiliano said. “I like being able to have this opportunity to go and be great.”

It awaits. All of it.

Jump in and go. The water’s fine.

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Olympics are a real possibility for Notre Dame swimmer Chris Guiliano

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