A swimmer from the Seward Tsunami Swim Club made big waves this week at the U.S. Open swimming championships.
Sixteen-year-old Lydia Jacoby qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in one event and climbed to the No. 2 spot all-time in her age group in another event Friday and Saturday at the Bill Walker Pool in San Antonio, Texas.
Both big results came in the breaststroke, the signature event for the Seward High junior.
Jacoby qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 100-meter breaststroke nearly two years ago, and on Saturday she qualified in the 200-meter breaststroke too.
“I’m really happy about that. That was a big goal for me,” Jacoby said Saturday by phone. “I’m excited.”
Jacoby posted a time of 2 minutes, 32.36 seconds in the 200 breaststroke on Saturday to easily meet the Olympic Trials qualifying standard of 2:33.29.
The day before she dazzled with a time of 1:07.57 in the 100 breaststroke, the second-fastest time in history by an American girl in the 15-16 age group. Jacoby ranked sixth on the all-time list before this week (her previous best was pre-pandemic 1:08.12), and now she’s .52 away from the national age-group record.
“It means a lot to know I’m one of the top people ever,” Jacoby said.
Jacoby was 14 when she qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 100 breaststroke nearly two years ago with a time of 1:10.45 to meet the qualifying standard of 1:10.99.
Since then, she’s shaved nearly three seconds off her time — and she thinks her most recent PR could have been even faster.
“It felt really good, but I took it out a little faster than I should have," Jacoby said. “If I hadn’t, I think I could’ve been a little faster on the final leg.”
Jacoby’s big results came at a national championship meet unlike any other. Because of COVID-19, the meet was held at nine different cities, and all events were timed finals — there were no preliminary races. To further avoid congestion on the pool deck, men and women swam separately in different sessions.
There was less media attention than usual, Jacoby said, and a lot fewer people. “I think it went really well, and I think it sets a precedent for future meets,” she said.
Training during the pandemic has been challenging for Jacoby, because the only pool in Seward hasn’t always been open. She didn’t swim for two months starting in mid-March because the pool was closed, and it’s been open on-and-off since the end of May, she said.
This summer the Northern Lights Swim Club invited Jacoby to join its training sessions at the Service High pool, so Jacoby and her mother Leslie rented a small place in Anchorage so she could get consistent pool-time.
She also found space in the family garage for weight equipment so she can lift more regularly and add more muscle to her 5-foot-10 frame. She’s doing more endurance work too, which she said led to her improvement at the 200-meter distance.
Alaska’s high school season never really materialized because of COVID-19 — Seward had about two meets instead of the usual 10, and the state championships were canceled — but something good came of that, Jacoby said.
Instead of training for weekly high school races, where she often competes in freestyle and individual medley races, she was able to concentrate on the breaststroke and this week’s U.S. Open.
“I was really training toward this meet. I was focusing my training on it,” she said.
The pandemic also meant the postponement of both the Olympic Trials and the Summer Olympics, which were moved from this summer to next summer. Jacoby sees an upside to that, too.
“For all of us younger swimmers it’s a huge advantage, because it gives us another year to get bigger and better,” she said.
Jacoby will take advantage of her time in the Lower 48 to visit four colleges that are recruiting her — the University of Texas, Notre Dame, Tennessee and North Carolina State. She expects to pick a school in the next few weeks.
Then it will be back to the pool — maybe in Seward, maybe in Anchorage — to train for the U.S. Olympic Trials, scheduled for June in Omaha, Nebraska. She’s one of 12 Alaskans in history to qualify for the trials.
Alaskans at the Olympic Trials
Clark Rush, 1980
Mia Costello, 1988
Andrew Billings, 1988
Maria Reeves, 2000
Andrew Tainter, 2000
Robert Roosa, 2000
Patty Nash, 2000
Derek Gibb, 2000, 2004
Micha Burden, 2008
Samantha Wicks, 2016
Lydia Jacoby, 2020*
John Heaphy, 2020*
(The 2020 Olympic Trials will be held in 2021 because of the COVID-related postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics, which have been moved to 2021)