US swim team will take 11 teens to Tokyo Olympics

Omaha – but for the pandemic, teenager Lydia Jacobi was a lock to go to the 2020 Olympics – as a fan on family vacation with her parents.

Although she surpassed the 100m breaststroke qualifying time for the US Olympic Trials two years ago, as a 14-year-old, Jacobi was racing against time in the winter of 2020, with only a few months to spare. was. He did his personal best to seriously fight for a spot on the Tokyo-bound team.

The coronavirus-induced postponement of the Tokyo Games worked in Jacobi’s favour, helping her gain more strength in the weight room as well as another year of physical maturity. The benefit of a year-long delay for first-time trial participants like Jacobi was undeniable in the eight-day US trials at the CHI Health Center, which concluded on Sunday.

Jacobi, 17, was one of 11 teenagers – the most since 1996 – who earned a berth on a 50-man team of pool swimmers. Then, as now, America was reloading after generations of talent retired.

In 1996, it was three-time Olympian Matt Biondi, who won 11 Olympic medals, including seven in 1988, who left the sport. This year, 28-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps was not competing for the first time since 1996.

Thirty swimmers from the 2016 Olympic team returned for spots in 2021; 15 failed to repeat, including 32-year-old Nathan Adrian, a five-time Olympic gold medalist who finished third, 25 of a second behind Michael Andrew in Sunday’s 50m freestyle final, by Caleb Dressel. Won.

Dressel was one of three swimmers to qualify in at least three individual events (for him, the 50 and 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly). The others were Katie Ledecky (200, 400, 800, 1500 freestyle) and Michael Andrew (50 free, 100 breast, 200 individual medley).

And for the second consecutive Olympics, the US team will include Simone Manuel, who secured her spot in the final women’s event, the 50-meter freestyle. Manuel, 24, touched 50 in 2016 Olympic silver medalist, Abhay Weitzel, who failed to advance Manuel’s signature event, the 100 free, on Friday after Manuel, who was tied for gold at the 2016 Olympics. Semifinals.

Manuel, whose preparation was severely compromised by overtraining syndrome, opened up about his struggles At a news conference on Thursday night. He acknowledged his vulnerability after trying to soldier on for six months, but his old, adventurous racing in the 50 freestyle was his own.

“I tried to swim loose and lighthearted at 50, but sharing my story allowed me to prove myself and fight for my place on the team,” Manuel said. “I’m trying to be a better Simone than I was the day before.”

The heavyweight Olympic interregnum was more impressed by his expectations-burdened giants than youngsters like 18-year-old Tori Haske, the 100m butterfly winner, who was carefully folding origami paper 30 minutes before his race.

“I don’t like to think about my swims until I’ve warmed up,” Huske said. “And yet I feel like I just put it off like 15 minutes ago.”

Joining the women’s team in water sprites are a handful of veterans, like Huske, who thought they had been swimming five years ago. These include freestyler Allison Schmidt, who became the fifth woman after Dara Torres, Jenny Thompson, Jill Sterkel and Amanda Beard to qualify for the fourth Olympic team by stopping the master’s degree in social work she started after returning from Rio de Janeiro. . .

Breaststroker Annie Ledger and sprint freestyler Natalie Hinds both retired after disappointing performances at the 2016 Trials and were dropped from the Olympic team. Each decided to return to the sport after determining that he was not yet ready for a post-swimming career. So who knows? Perhaps some of the swimmers who skipped these tests, who were devastated when they were dropped from the Olympic team, will fight for a US berth in 2024 to Paris in three years.

“It was the hard part,” said Dressel, who has also qualified for four Olympic relays. He was referring to the tension of the meeting, which is considered more gruesome than sports because of its deep pool of American talent.

Dressel said it was heartbreaking to see former Olympic teammates like Ryan Lochte, a training partner, fall short. At the same time, Dressel said, the circulation of new blood is invigorating.

“You have people from different backgrounds, different ages, different club teams across America, and we’re becoming a team,” he said.

One of the freshest faces is Jacoby, from the port city of Seward, Alaska, a two-hour drive from Anchorage. She swam nearly three seconds faster than her best prependemic time in the 100 breaststroke, second only to 2016 Olympic champion Lily King. Jacobi is the first Alaska-born swimming Olympian and only the second Summer Games participant from her home state.

She learned swimming when she was young because her parents, Richard and Leslie, are professional boat captains who wanted to make sure the water was safe. His aptitude for the breaststroke was clear from the start. His long legs and unusually flexible ankles combine to make his kicks extra propellant.

Jacobi, who will be a senior at Seward High, is coached by Meghan O’Leary at Seward Tsunami Swim Club. It is a small team of about five dozen athletes of varying levels, a lower than average senior national group of powerhouse club teams in the continental United States.

He will have as many Olympic teammates as he does on his club team, and will be working out together for the first time in a 50-meter pool at the Olympic training camp in Hawaii. At home, she trains in a short-course facility (25 yards).

When the team’s training facilities closed during the lockdown last year, Jacobi traveled to Anchorage to train with Ben Kitchens at the Northern Lights Swim Club. Her parents rented a place to cut down on commuting, and when they couldn’t travel, Jacobi stayed with local swimming families.

“That’s what’s great about Alaskan swimming,” said O’Leary, an Alaska native. “Teams aren’t just looking out for each other.”

Going into 2020, O’Leary and Kitchen saw Jacoby as only an outside chance to make the Olympic team. “It would have been more of a fan trip than a business trip,” said Kitchen.

Jacobi took advantage of the extra year to spend more time on her strength training, and with the extra muscle, she gained confidence. Her expectations for the week ahead, Kitchen said, “was too high for what she did.”

So Jacobi’s Tokyo family vacation has turned into a trip with his new swimming family, Team USA.

“It’s certainly crazy to know all those wonderful people,” Jacobi said, “and know I’m one of them now.”

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