Alaska’s first ever Olympic swimmer, 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby from Seward, rallied from behind to take home a gold medal for Team USA in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke at the Tokyo Games on Monday night.
Jacoby finished with a time of 1 minute, 4.95 seconds, beating both the Olympic record holder from South Africa, Tatjana Schoenmaker (1:05.22), and the world record holder and two-time Olympic gold medalist from Team USA, Lilly King (1:05.54).
“I was just trying to feel good and feel happy going into it,” Jacoby told NBC after her race Monday, during which she improved her personal best and national age group record from 1:05.28.
Her parents, Leslie and Rich Jacoby, saw her take home the gold from Orlando, Florida, and over 100 fans jumped up and down and embraced at the watch party at the Alaska Railroad Cruise Ship Terminal in Seward.
Before hitting college, Jacoby now has the seventh-fastest 100 breaststroke of all time, according to a list from swimswam.com.
“Thank you for all the support, everything over these years has been amazing,” Jacoby told NBC.
According to the Anchorage Daily News, Jacoby is the 15th athlete from Alaska to win an Olympic medal.
One of her coaches from the Seward Tsunami Swim Club, Solomon D’Amico, said he wanted to emphasize that a lot of Jacoby’s success has not just come from himself or the club, but from Seward and the greater Alaska community.
“It’s a community lift, it’s not just me,” he told the Clarion on Monday night.
D’Amico said all of Jacoby’s coaches in Seward, as well as at the Northern Lights Swim Club in Anchorage, have helped Jacoby take home the gold not just for Team USA but also for Alaska.
D’Amico watched from the terminal in Seward on Monday. He said the energy was unmatched.
“That was a really special feeling and environment,” he said. “Getting to watch everyone come in, it was totally palpable.”
Off the starting blocks in the finals, Jacoby was a few swimmers back. At the halfway point, she made her turn behind both King and Schoenmaker, starting her last 50 meters in third place. Schoenmaker swam the first 50 in 30.41 seconds, while King was at 30.71 and Jacoby was at 30.74.
In her last few meters she pushed ahead, causing an upset and tapping the end of the pool right before King and Schoenmaker. Jacoby came home in 34.21, while Schoenmaker was at 34.81 and King at 34.83.
D’Amico said Jacoby has really good pace control — while some swimmers slow down toward the end, the 17-year-old is able to maintain her speed, which often pushes her ahead of other breaststrokers.
In the Sunday semifinals, Jacoby won the first race with a time of 1:05.72 seconds. In the second semifinal, Schoenmaker and King had faster times than Jacoby.
Back in August 2019, Jacoby won the 100-meter breaststroke during the Speedo Junior National Championships at Stanford University in California as a high school sophomore, with a time of 1:08.12. In almost exactly two years, Jacoby has cut her time by about four whole seconds.
In an earlier interview with the Clarion in April, Jacoby said if the Tokyo Olympics hadn’t been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic she might not have been fast enough to compete for Team USA at all.
“People like me, who are younger, have had another year to get bigger, faster and develop more,” Jacoby said. “It’s been very beneficial to me.”
As for what’s next for the Olympic champion, Jacoby will start her senior year at Seward High School in just a few weeks. After graduation, she plans on heading to Austin to swim for the University of Texas.
D’Amico said he doesn’t want Jacoby to be reduced to just a set of numbers or statistics, but that he hopes she can come home and explore her other passions, which include journalism, theater and music.
He said he hopes she can just “get back to being a happy-go-lucky kid from Seward.”