Destin Lasco Turns Sensational Short Course Swimming Into Long Course Breakthrough
Talent was never in question, not when Destin Lasco rolled into college swimming in the 2020-21 season and instantly collected three top-three finishes at the NCAA Championships. But Lasco’s long course swimming, at least at the beginning, did not match up to the abilities he showed in 25-yard competition. Plenty of elite college swimmers could never achieve the same level of success in the big pool, even some in the Cal program under Dave Durden’s tutelage.
After his first two college seasons, Lasco achieved solid results at selection meets, including fifth-place finishes in the 200 backstroke at the 2021 Olympic Trials and 2022 International Team Trials and a tie for fourth in the 200 IM in 2022, but nothing akin to his short course times. Plenty would have been content with that; college-level stardom plus national-level relevance certainly equals a fine swimming career.
But not for Lasco. He is constantly seeking feedback and advice, looking for any possible way to get better. Even during the college season, he was dialed into the process of improving his long course swimming. A holiday training camp at altitude was exclusively long course practices, and he focused on finding rhythm that would help him sustain his speed in long course backstroke.
“Yards comes natural to me. I’ve been blessed to have good underwaters, so that’s all taken care of,” Lasco said. “For long course, what I’ve been working on to improve is my tempo. I build my speed in yards off my turns, and in long course, you don’t have turns. It’s all tempo and rhythm, so that’s what I’ve been working on nonstop this past season, my tempo. I keep it simple as that because I feel like I do put in the work to swim a correct 200 long course, so at the end of the day now, it’s having tempo but not slipping at the same time.”
But coming off a stellar NCAA Championships, where he broke the American record in the 200-yard IM and scared Ryan Murphy’s national mark in the 200-yard back, Lasco’s main events were too deep to consider his ability to qualify for the World Championships anything besides a long shot. So perhaps his best chance at getting onto the U.S. team would be in the 100 freestyle. His college season freestyle times were promising, including a 1:29.53 anchor leg on Cal’s 800-yard free relay and 40.95 anchoring the 400-yard free relay team. And with six spots available on the Worlds team for relays, the opportunity was there.
And in the very first session of racing in Indianapolis, Lasco proved his 100 free abilities were legitimate. He finished third in prelims in 47.87, knocking almost nine tenths off his best time. After going out in 23.33, his back-half split of 24.54 was sensational, the best in the field. He swam slightly slower at night, but his 48.00 was good enough for fourth and a spot in Fukuoka.
That sent the 21-year-old into his best event, the 200 back, on a high.
“It was just a feeling of swimming freely. Going into the 200 back prelims, I was a little tired, but seeing 1:56 on the board insanely re-boosted my confidence,” Lasco said. “In the final, I trusted my body.”
Sure enough, Lasco emerged from the final with his first individual swim at Worlds confirmed. He was outside the top-two for most of the race as Murphy battled with Jack Aikins, but Lasco shined on the final length, splitting 29.68 to outpace everyone except the reigning world champion. He touched in 1:55.63, more than a second quicker than his best time entering the day, for second place.
“I don’t even know if I can tell you what even happened,” Lasco said. “I just blacked out as soon as I heard the beep. I think that’s when I have the best races, when I focus on my breathing and I relax and let me body take over.”
His results in the 100 free and 200 back made this Nationals the meet that Lasco had been waiting for, and it culminated Wednesday as he earned a spot representing the United States alongside a man who he had admired even before training alongside him in Berkeley. Murphy has been witness to Lasco’s progression over the past three years, and he has noticed the improvements in Lasco’s staying power in long course workouts.
In a post-race television, Murphy told NBC Sports that Lasco was the third Cal teammate who had joined him in a major international meet in the 200 back, joining Jacob Pebley and Bryce Mefford. Murphy claimed that Lasco might be the best one yet, a testament to what Lasco showed in practice daily far more than his results in significant competitions.
“It goes with the mantra of being resilient. This has been a long time coming,” Lasco said. “People always knew me as a yards swimmer, and just not giving up and always trying to learn from the people around you of being better and finding ways to improve my stroke and my rhythm. I give all my credit to Hugo (Gonzalez), to Murph, to Lucas Henveaux back at home, Gabe Jett, Jack Alexy, they were so influential in me finding my rhythm long course. I just kept learning, and I’m just glad it came to fruition at this meet.”