Producing Historic Career for Tiger Men’s Swimming, Khosla Primed to Go Out with a Bang in Ivies, NCAAs
RAU TALENT: Princeton University men’s swimmer Raunak Khosla displays his breaststroke form. Senior star Khosla has produced a historic career at Princeton as a two-time Ivy League Championships High Point Swimmer of the Meet (2020, 2022); an Honorable Mention All-American in the 200 butterfly, 200 individual medley, and 400 IM in 2022, holding the school record in those three events; and the seventh-place finisher in the 200 IM at the Phillips 66 National Championships last summer. In upcoming action, Khosla and the Tigers will be wrapping up regular season action by facing Harvard and Yale on January 27-28 at Blodgett Pool in Cambridge, Mass. (Photo provided by Princeton Athletics)
By Bill Alden
For Raunak Khosla, getting injured as a grade schooler resulted in him taking the plunge into swimming.
“I ended up breaking my arm when I was in third grade and the only sport I could do was swimming,” said Khosla, a native of Roswell, Ga., noting that he was fitted with a waterproof cast which allowed him to swim with the injury. “I got into that for a while and eventually I chose to swim year-round, and the rest is history.”
Coming north to attend Princeton University in 2018 and joining its men’s swimming and diving team, Khosla has made a lot of history for the Tigers.
Among his many achievements, Khosla is a two-time Ivy League Championships High Point Swimmer of the Meet (2020, 2022); an Honorable Mention All-American in the 200 butterfly, 200 individual medley, and 400 IM in 2022, holding the school record in those three events; and the seventh-place finisher in the 200 IM at the Phillips 66 National Championships last summer.
While Khosla had other athletic interests, the idea that being dedicated to swimming would yield success drew him to the sport.
“I wouldn’t say I was as successful in swimming as I was in different sports,” said Khosla, who also played football and lacrosse. “I really liked the aspect that you get what you put into it in terms of as hard as you work, you are going to see some results. Especially at a young age, it was easy to see that if I worked really hard I would get good results, and that was something that got me into it.”
As Khosla went through the college recruiting process, he saw Princeton as a place where hard work would pay off in the pool and the classroom.
“It came down to being able to excel academically and athletically,” said Khosla, who took official visits to Cal, Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia in addition to Princeton. “There might be a small stigma around the idea you can’t perform well at an Ivy League school athletically. I couldn’t really believe that. I thought, ‘Why wouldn’t I go to a place with the most high achieving individuals in the classroom?’ I thought it was place where I could excel in both.”
As a freshman at Princeton, Khosla worked to balance swimming and classwork.
“I think one thing swimming teaches you is a lot about time management,” said Khosla. “When I got to school, the jump was very high academically and athletically. We tell all of our freshmen, and this is true when I started, that the kids that are coming in are probably the best in their city or their state. When you come in and you are getting beat every other day and even if you are winning, you are not going to be the fastest guy. I think being able to respond to that is something that I learned really quickly. The guys on the team really taught me that and that you are swimming for something bigger than yourself, which I really enjoy.”
Competing for the Tiger team helped Khosla individually in his debut campaign.
“I would say my biggest breakthrough meet was the Ivies because I dropped a lot of time and I ended up making the NCAAs,” said Khosla. “That was a goal I had throughout the year — I thought I could do something special. As a team, it showed me that swimming is more of a team sport than people realize because when we got to Ivies there was bunch of alumni in the stands. I really thrive off of that energy. I think that is where those performances came from. Even though you are alone in the pool, you are really not. There are so many people in the support system and people in the stands and your teammates.”
A year later, Khosla did some more big things before the season was halted due to the global pandemic.
“In sophomore year, I knew I had the potential to do something special, it was whether I was going to put that together,” said Khosla, who placed first in the 200 butterfly, 200 individual medley, and 400 IM at the 2020 Ivy championships on the way to earning High Point Swimmer honors. “It happened at Ivies and then NCAAs got canceled. I was just really looking forward to having more confidence going into the season, knowing that I could perform well.”
Taking a gap year in 2020-21 with Ivy League cancelling the winter sports season due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, Khosla gained more confidence through some focused training.
“Me and two of my other teammates moved out to the Chicago suburbs because there was a pool out there and one of my teammates knew the coach,” said Khosla. “It was brand new and I didn’t necessarily want to stay home for that long and train without some of my friends around. I was there for a majority of the year training and I was working for a small startup, Acuity Med. I just trained the whole year for Olympic Trials and the trials went well. It was good to get more specific training; there was a lot more time because I wasn’t constricted by school. The reason we took this gap year was to preserve eligibility because I came to Princeton to swim there for four years.”
Buoyed by that intense training, Khosla excelled at the 2021 Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb., earning a spot in the A final of the 200 IM where he finished eighth.
“The one thing it showed me was that swimming, like track, is all about your times,” said Khosla. “You could feel the tension in the room. I am someone who usually swims like I have nothing to lose. That actually played to my advantage because other people didn’t perform as well as they probably could have because of that pressure. I had more confidence. I was racing the best in the country, that is the goal. Whatever high level competition you can get, you learn from each experience.”
Utilizing that experience, Khosla produced a superb junior campaign, earning the High Point title at the Ivy championships and making the B finals at the NCAA Championships in the 200 butterfly, 200 IM, and 400 IM.
“I think for my junior year, we had a lot of focus on doing well at NCAAs,” said Khosla. “I ended up finaling in all three of my events, which was a big deal for me. My freshman year, I only finaled in the 400 IM.”
While Khosla was proud of his individual achievements, he was just as excited by helping Princeton take second in the 400 medley relay, 400 freestyle relay, and 800 free relay.
“The biggest shift was that I was trying to play a major role on the relays for Ivies; it was at home so that was a very big deal for us,” said Khosla. “We love swimming in our own pool. Focusing on a good individual swim can really drive the team. When you have four guys step up and swim really fast, it shows the team we have all done the same training so that means why can’t I go fast also.”
The past summer, Khosla stayed in Princeton to train with Tiger head coach Matt Crispino as he girded for his final college campaign.
“I hadn’t had a summer year with the current coaching staff because Matt came in my sophomore year and everyone got sent home that year and then I went to Chicago for the next year,” said Khosla. “I wanted to stay in the summer before my last year to train with them. It went well, we went to summer nationals in California and I ended up getting top 8 in the 200 IM. My goal was to make an A final at the summer nationals.”
Crispino, for his part, enjoyed getting the chance to do some extra work with Khosla.
“I was able to learn more about what makes him tick and what ingredients go into putting him in a position to swim his best,” said Crispino. “It was exciting — I think it will pay off this year. As we approach championship season, I think he is going to swim really fast.”
In assessing what makes Khosla tick, Crispino believes it comes down to taking care of detail.
“He does the things that are the necessary part of being a good swimmer — he comes to practice every day, he works very hard, he is very competitive, but that describes a lot of swimmers,” said Crispino. “He is also very talented, but that also describes a lot of swimmers. I think the difference is that he is just very focused on the tiny details that separate good swimmers from great swimmers. If there is something very, very minor in his backstroke, he will work days or weeks trying to improve that little detail.”
That work ethic has helped Khosla emerge as a key leader for the Tigers, becoming a three-year captain, the first in program history.
“He is the perfect role model but he also has very high standards and very high expectations for everybody else,” said Crispino. “He will hold people accountable to those standards but he does it in a very level-headed way and in a way that makes the guys on the team feel like he cares about them. He is not heavy-handed, he is not overbearing, and he is approachable. He is respected to the point where if he does come to you and wants to address something with you, you will listen. When he talks, you listen.”
With Princeton wrapping up regular season action by facing Harvard and Yale on January 27-28 at Blodgett Pool in Cambridge, Mass., before competing in the Ivy Championships in late February and the NCAAs in March, Crispino believes Khosla is primed for a big stretch run.
“I am very optimistic that the work that he is doing right now is some of the best work he has ever done,” said Crispino, whose team is
currently 6-2 overall and 4-1 Ivy. “He is putting himself in a position to achieve the goals that he set for himself and for the team. I am extremely optimistic about February and March. I think he is going to have another breakthrough, if that is possible for a swimmer at his level. He is the reason our team has been as successful as it has been. I would love for him and the other seniors to win an Ivy League title. That is why he is good on relays too; it is more than just him swimming, it is swimming for the team.”
Looking ahead, Crispino would love to see Khosla stay in swimming after graduation.
“I don’t think we have really found his limits yet, I don’t think he has reached his true potential yet,” said Crispino. “I hope he continues swimming beyond college, because I think he could keep getting better.”
Khosla, for his part, is focused on making the most out of the final weeks of his college career.
“We are in a place to do something really special,” said Khosla. “We have talked about you only control what you do — we can’t control anyone else. That is another reason I like swimming. I think our biggest goal is perform at our best when we need to and that is February at Ivies. My focus is to swim as fast as possible at the Ivies and then try to replicate those swims and do better at the NCAAs. Being able to learn from what happens at Ivies and be better three weeks later is really important.”
No matter what happens in February and March, Khosla has learned some important lessons from taking that plunge into swimming.
“If you had shown my 2018 me as a freshman versus now, I think I am a completely changed person, hopefully for the better,” said Khosla. “It has taught me a lot about leadership, being able to help the younger guys but also just putting your head down and putting in some work. When you come in, everything at Princeton is exciting for the first couple of months and then you get used to it. Then it is getting used to the grind and appreciating it as you get older.”