Meet Katie Grimes, the Olympian Dubbed the Future of Swimming

Originally appeared on E! Online

Katie Grimes wasn't going to let one disappointing swim sink her chances of going to her first Olympics.

"I'm just a stubborn person by nature," the 18-year-old told E! News in an exclusive interview, recalling her turnaround at the U.S. Olympic trials in 2021 after her seconds-too-slow finish in the 400-meter individual medley. "I was really upset, but I was not going to let that be my trip. I was so excited for this goal of mine, and I just wasn't going to let it slip away like that."

So after coming up short in the race she was most confident about, she flipped the script and ended up finishing second in the 800-meter freestyle final—enough to punch her ticket to Tokyo at only 15 years old, making Grimes the youngest member of the entire U.S. Olympic team that year.

The winner of that race, meanwhile, had some encouraging words for the youngster who joined her on the podium.

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"I told her after her mile the other day when she got third, I said, 'You're the future,'" Katie Ledecky, who made her Olympics debut at 15 and went on to become the most decorated female swimmer ever, told NBC Sports when they finished one-two. "And I told her after that [final], like, she's the now."

Katie Grimes, Katie Ledecky, 2020 Tokyo Olympics, 2021
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Growing up in Las Vegas, Grimes had posters of Ledecky on her bedroom wall, so getting that endorsement from her idol was kind of a big deal.

"That was pretty crazy," Grimes said, reflecting on the compliment she can still barely wrap her head around. "She and Michael Phelps were the It-swimmers, so I always looked up to her. To hear her say that was definitely shocking at first—I don't think I even comprehended it—but it was cool, for sure."

Grimes finished just shy of the 800M freestyle podium in Tokyo—Ledecky won her third straight gold medal in the event—but she's gearing up to make an even bigger splash this summer, crediting all the work she's been doing in the pool and out for feeling so ready to race, mentally and physically.

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"I get the saying, 'work smarter, not harder,' but I feel like we do both really well," said the 5-foot-10 athlete, who's coached by Sandpipers of Nevada CEO Ron Aitken. "That's helped propel me and has given me confidence for this coming summer, because we have literally put in so much work—so many meters—that I know I can do anything. I have full confidence in my body and in my mind."

Katie Grimes, Powerade
Courtesy of Powerade

She's also simply stronger and faster than she was three years ago. "I can lift heavier weights," Grimes said, "and have been able to take more on aerobically."

Part of working out smarter, meanwhile, is "being aware of what you're putting in your body," she noted, "and making sure you're getting the right vitamins and nutrients." When her electrolytes need replenishing, she loves a grape-flavored Powerade and is proudly a face of the sports beverage brand's "It Takes More" campaign, celebrating the type of all-in dedication that Grimes embodies.

"During practice, fuel is number one," Grimes said. But it's also about "putting in that extra effort when nobody's watching, the extra credit that you do outside the pool."

Speaking of extra credit, even with the Olympic swimming trials not getting underway until June 15 in Indianapolis, Grimes is headed to Paris no matter what: She earned bronze last July in the 10-kilometer open water event to become the first American to make the 2024 U.S. Olympics team in any sport.

Katie Grimes, 2023 World Aquatics Championships
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Of course her intent is always to win—and you don't just dive into Hakata Bay in Fukuoka, Japan, and swim 6.2 miles without knowing exactly what you're doing. But placing was admittedly "a little bit unexpected" for Grimes.

"I had never placed top-three in an international 10k before," she explained. "But I just had this feeling before the race, I might be able to do this."

Still, when she clocked her Olympics-worthy time of two hours, two minutes and 43.2 seconds, "I was just so surprised when I saw that result, like, 'Holy cow, I can't believe it!' But I'm totally stoked, super excited."

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So, back into the suitcase goes her must-pack item: Wilson, the stuffed bear she's had forever and takes on all her travels. "This sounds really ridiculous, 'cause I'm literally 18," she said, quipping, "but if I don't have it in the hotel room, I don't hit my REM."

Though it's her second Olympics, in many ways it'll be a first-time-for-almost-everything adventure, including the opening and closing ceremonies, which she and many other other athletes skipped three years ago.

In Tokyo, "the stands were empty, everything was empty," Grimes recalled. "Not even my parents were able to watch—nobody's were."

So having her family in Paris with her will mean the world. "Explaining it to them or showing pictures is one thing," Grimes said, "but them being there to be a part of it will be awesome. They work just as hard as I work, so I'm excited that they get to be a recipient of those rewards as well."

Not that Christian and Shari Grimes are matching their daughter lap for lap, but they have been her biggest champions since she followed big brothers Sawyer and Carter into the pool and started training with Sandpipers of Nevada—where the coaches recognized early on that she had Olympics-caliber potential.

Katie Grimes, Christian Grimes, Shari Grimes, 2023 Golden Goggle Awards
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

"I wouldn't say it was inevitable," Grimes, who's the youngest of seven, said of her trajectory from watching her siblings compete to wading in herself. "It wasn't this thing where my parents were like, 'All the kids are swimming.'"

She was 3 when Carter—a gymnast before he hit a growth spurt that didn't stop until he was 6-foot-4—joined Sandpipers, followed by Sawyer. "I watched them have fun, I'd go to their swim meets and cheer for them," she said. "And then of course I wanted to do everything they do, so I took lessons—and it turned out pretty good."

It was Sawyer, a University of Minnesota alum who was also swimming at the Olympic trials in 2021, who gave her a pep talk after her first race went awry.

"He knows how much I train and how much commitment and dedication I put into it," Grimes said. "So he had my back and reminded me how I'm not going to let this rule everything."

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She's obviously hoping for a different outcome when she dives in for the 400m IM at this year's Olympic trials, but she's also got the 800m and 1,500m freestyles on her to-conquer list, and possibly the 400m freestyle and 200m backstroke.

So far she's had a promising spring, winning the 400m IM, plus three other events, at the Fran Crippen Swim Meet of Champions in April. Then she won the women's 10k at the 2024 Open Water National & Junior National Championships last month with a time of 1:58:18, four minutes faster than the time that got her into the Olympics.

During those marathon swims, "I'm constantly calculating, constantly going over strategy," Grimes shared. Practice sessions can be "a little more meditative, but it's still grinding, still taking a lot of mental effort to be 100 percent in the moment."

"Because if you're not in the moment," she added, "then you could be wasting movement. It's definitely important to be focused on what you're doing while you're doing it, and try not to drift off too much."

Katie Grimes, 2022 FINA World Championships
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Even when she's not swimming, her mind is admittedly never too far from the water. So Grimes has to purposefully give her brain a rest when she can, whether she's watching Shark Tank in her hotel room during tournaments, chilling with her family at home in Vegas or taking her 1969 Corvette Stingray out for a drive, the gears of the classic car requiring her full attention.

"Practice and competition can definitely take a toll, not only physically but also mentally," she said, "and sometimes emotionally, too. Being able to relax and not even think about the pool is hard to do as an athlete. But it's necessary to think about anything other than swimming for just a little bit of time."

Katie Grimes, 2024 World Aquatics Championships, Doha
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

When she needs to do the opposite and lock in, it's Dua Lipa's aptly named album Radical Optimism that's been getting Grimes pumped for the pool lately.

"Lots of bangers on that one," she said, and "everybody needs a little optimism heading into the summer."

Especially if they're swimming against Grimes.

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