Sport: Women's swimming (backstroke)
Birthday: February 28 1997 (age 19)
Hometown: Winston-Salem, NC
Cal affiliation: California Golden Bears rising sophomore
Years at Cal: 2015-current
Olympic appearances: 2016 Rio games will be Kathleen's first taste of the Olympics
The face you make when you realize you're going to Olympics!! So thankful for everyone's support ❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/KTMpXAnGWu— Kathleen Baker (@KathleenBaker2) June 29, 2016
Kathleen Baker was a part of the dream Cal women's swimming recruiting class that was supposed to allow the program to seamlessly transition from losing Missy Franklin to the professional ranks. One of the 4 top 5 recruits that signs before the 2015-16 school year, Kathleen Baker was joined in this dream class by Katie McLaughlin (looked strong at the Olympic Trials after suffering a neck injury in January that took her out of the Pac-12 and NCAA championships), Amy Bilquist (just missed out on making Team USA in the 100 and 200 Back), and Abbey Weizeil who chose to defer but is also a Calympian heading to Rio.
In the 2016 NCAA Championships that saw the Golden Bears finished in 3rd place in the country, Kathleen Baker swam the leadoff leg of the 800 Free relay (3rd place), finished 2nd in the 200 IM, swam the freestyle in the 400 medley relay (10th place), swam in the 400 free relay (6th place), and in perhaps a surprise given her Olympic Trials success - placed 13th in the 100 back and 200 back.
Owning several age group records, Kathleen Baker, despite her age of only being 15 at the time, actually fared decently in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. Baker placed 13th in the 200 Back, 15th in the 100 Back, and 23rd in the 200 IM.
She eventually made the U.S. National team an year later that competed in the 2013 FINA World Championships in Dubai. Baker won silvers in the 100 Back and the 200 Back along with bronzes in the 400 medley mixed relay and 400 medley women's relays.
Baker continued to be a mainstay on the U.S. National Team roster. For the Short Course World Championships in 2014 in Doha, she won silver in the 200 free relay. In the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Baker placed 8th in the 100 Back while swam in the prelim of the 4x100 medley relay that ultimately placed 4th with Missy Franklin replacing Baker in the final for the backstroke leg.
More on Kathleen and her Rio outlook:
One of the 12 Golden Bears to represent U.S.A. in swimming and one of 4 2016-17 (along with Noemie Thomas (Canada), Farida Osman (Egypt) and Abbey Weitzeil (USA)) Cal women's swimming Golden Bears, Kathleen Baker will be making her first Olympic games appearance in Rio. Baker will look to continue the California Golden Bears dominance in the 100 Back in the Olympic games: Natalie Coughlin won the 100 Back Gold in 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing. Missy Franklin won the 100 Back Gold in 2012 London. Just before her freshman year in Berkeley, Rachel Bootsma was the other U.S. 100 Back racer in London.
In the Olympic Trials 100 Back final that included both Missy Franklin and Natalie Coughlin, Kathleen Baker managed to swim faster than both of those legends to grab the 2nd place behind another 1st time Olympian in Olivia Smoliga (a Georgia Bulldog) and book her place on the U.S. Swimming delegation.
Most swimming pundits were not picking Smoliga and Baker as the ones who were going to win this race. Baker actually had a slight lead in the 50 before Smoliga edges Baker for the win. That swim was a personal best for Baker. Coming in 3rd and missing the Olympics by 0.08 seconds? Baker's Cal teammate in Amy Bilquist, who recently revealed that she has been battling a disease since the Pac-12 Championships. Check out the full race in the embedded video below.
Rightfully so, Kathleen was very excited to become a first time Olympian.
By qualifying in the 100 Back, Kathleen Baker should have two chances to medal in Rio. She will swim in the 100 Back and probably the prelim of the 4x100 medley relay. Swimming in the prelim was how former Calympian and recent Cal graduate Rachel Bootsma earned a gold medal in London.
Despite attending Cal, Baker has chosen to do her training with her hometown Swim MAC Elite club, leading up to this Olympic Trials. It is a group that includes Ryan Lochte and recently added Calympian Anthony Ervin.
The rising sophomore is listed as a public health major. She has said that she plans on going into nursing after graduating from Cal. Time will tell whether Baker will stay in competitive swimming for awhile. Earlier today, New York Times has an article detailing Kathleen Baker's perseverance in making it to the Olympics despite being diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a chronic gastrointestinal condition, in 2010. The amount of time that she has spent at the doctor's office may explain her interest in medicine.
As a freshman at the University of California, Baker placed second in the 200-yard individual medley at the N.C.A.A. Division I championships in March but struggled to manage the cumulative stress from the Pacific 12 Championships and the N.C.A.A. meet. As a result, she chose not to swim the 200 backstroke at the trials, so she could direct all her energies to the 100. Her competition in the eight-swimmer final included the 2012 Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin and Natalie Coughlin, a former world-record holder in the event.
In the final, Baker set a personal best of 59.29 seconds to finish 27-hundredths of a second behind the winner, Olivia Smoliga. When Dr. Kappelman, in North Carolina, found out that Baker had made the Olympic team, he said he called his wife and his parents and then stepped outside his office and announced the news "as if an amazing thing had happened to my own child."
Baker's experience on other international trips has made her adept at filling out the medical forms required by the World Anti-Doping Agency and packing her medical kit, including syringes and extra dosages of her medicine in case of emergency. The super bacteria in the waters off Rio do not worry her; Baker knows from gastrointestinal disorders.
Crohn's disease is a big part of my life. I hope to inspire others to never let something limit their goals!https://t.co/iYuKBfBFYc— Kathleen Baker (@KathleenBaker2) July 14, 2016
In the 2016 U.S. Swimming Olympic Trials, Baker, along with several other Golden Bears on both the women's and the men's sides, is a part of the changing of the guard on the U.S. National Team. We shall see if she can live up to the lofty history of Golden Bears in the 100 Back at the Olympic games.
Good luck to Kathleen in Rio and GO BEARS!