While Chase Kalisz endured the decathlon of swimming last week, his English Bulldog, Floyd, enjoyed a life of luxury.
“He’s in one of our private suites,” said Stephen Garza, assistant kennel manager at Pawtropolis in Athens, Ga. “He gets play time with staff members.”
Kalisz is arguably the world’s best swimmer. He swept the individual medleys at the 2017 World Championships, then dominated the domestic Tyr Pro Swim Series in the spring before comfortably taking the 200m and 400m IMs at the U.S. Championships in Irvine, Calif., last week.
For years, the Kalisz story began with his association with Michael Phelps. Kalisz, a Bel Air, Md., native, began training at Phelps’ North Baltimore Aquatic Club in 2000 and, as workout partners leading up to Rio, described Phelps as an older brother.
When Kalisz was beaten in his Olympic debut in Rio — silver to Japan’s Kosuke Hagino in the 400m individual medley — it was a message from the never-forget-a-loss Phelps that motivated Kalisz to work harder en route to his world championships breakout.
That’s not all that fuels Kalisz. He moved back to his college town since spending the Rio Olympic year training with Phelps in Arizona.
Kalisz and Floyd are well known around campus. Perhaps nowhere is Kalisz more recognized than at the Waffle House across the street from his apartment. Restaurant manager Kathleen “Bobbi” Peek was asked how well the staff knows the swimmer.
“The All-Star,” she said, referring not to Kalisz’s talent but his regular order. “Triple scrambled [eggs], peanut butter waffle, hash browns smothered [with onions], covered [with cheese], capped [with mushrooms] and bacon.”
Kalisz estimated he eats at Waffle House “four times a week, at least.”
In February, Kalisz drove to Tennessee to pick up Floyd, a 10-week-old puppy of a Westminster Dog Show participant. Why an English Bulldog?
“I remember Herman when I was younger,” Kalisz said of Phelps’ longtime pet. “Mike would bring him to swim meets around Baltimore, and I was like, that’s the coolest dog in the world.”
Bulldogs are pretty beloved in Athens, too.
“[Floyd] is more popular than me,” Kalisz said (Floyd is up to 3,600 Instagram followers). “We go on campus, and I take him on walks. I literally have people pointing him out, ‘That’s Floyd the Bulldog.'”
It pained Kalisz to part with Floyd last month. Kalisz flew to California for the national championships, a training camp and then the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo (Aug. 9-12). Floyd trotted to Athens’ Pawtropolis, “The city that’s gone to the dogs … and cats, too.”
“He’s got a toddler bed. He’s got an area where he can go in and out, play time every single day,” Kalisz said. “They’re taking good care of him. I get three FaceTimes a week with him.”
Kalisz passed free time at nationals by going through photos of Floyd, easing the pain of separation. Floyd watched TV, a lot of it.
“Lady and the Tramp, Bolt, Cats & Dogs, Oliver & Company, Benji,” Garza said, reeling off Pawtropolis’ private suite listings.
Kalisz insisted life hasn’t changed much since Rio, even with moving back to Athens and becoming world champion.
“I promise you no one still knows who I am,” he said.
That’s quickly changing in Japan. Kalisz’s top rivals are Hagino and Daiya Seto, who are shaping up to be two of the 2020 Olympic host nation’s biggest stars across all sports.
Kosuke Kitajima, the greatest Japanese swimmer in history who swept the breaststrokes in 2004 and 2008, led a Japanese film crew that covered swimming nationals and recently spent a day with Kalisz in Athens.
“They’re promoting me over there,” Kalisz said. “It’s good exposure.”
Kitajima promised to recommend a sushi place for Kalisz in Tokyo this month. Seto’s coming to Athens this fall to get the UGA experience with Kalisz and fellow U.S. Olympic 400m IMer Jay Litherland, including a Bulldogs football game.
First, they must race. Kalisz, Hagino and Seto are all entered in the 200m and 400m IMs at Pan Pacs in Tokyo, making them the most anticipated men’s events of the meet.
Kalisz posted the fastest times in the world this year in both events at nationals. He supplanted Hagino’s top time in the 200m IM by .64 of a second. He bettered his own world-leading mark in the 400m IM, moving .73 ahead of second-ranked Seto.
Then Kalisz left Irvine with one more message for the Japanese.
“I’ll be better in Tokyo,” he said.
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