‘The bigger the meet, the better she does’: Locals react to Jacoby’s Olympic-qualifying swim

Lydia Jacoby is about to become the second Alaskan to compete in the summer Olympics.

A woman seen from the side cocmes up for air while doing the breathstroke
Seward’s Lydia Jacoby at the TYR Pro Meet this April in Mission Viejo, Calif. Jacoby’s performance in the 100-meter breaststroke at that meet makes her the 14th fastest U.S. woman of all time. (Courtesy of Lydia Jacoby)

The 17-year-old Seward swimmer placed second in the 100-meter breaststroke Tuesday at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb. She broke the national age-group record and her personal record two days in a row.

Jacoby’s Olympic qualification isn’t official yet — that gets finalized later this week. 

But by all accounts, she has won a spot on the U.S. women’s team. She finished with a time of 1:05:28, falling behind only Lilly King, reigning Olympic champion and world-record holder.

“The bigger the meet, the better she does. And that’s held true, all the way up to last night,” said Jacoby’s longtime coach, Solomon D’Amico, who is now in Omaha for the trials.

“It’s pretty special,” he said. “You walk into the venue, especially when it’s finals and semi-finals, and you can just feel it, you know?”

The mood has been celebratory over 3,000 miles away, too. Jacoby’s cheerleaders back home in Alaska have been following her every stroke.

Sarah Spanos, of Seward, has been keeping other Sewardites updated about Jacoby’s races on Facebook. 

“Just as a bleacher mom, I’m just fighting back the tears every time I watch her swim,” Spanos said. Her sons grew up swimming with Jacoby in Seward, with the Seward Tsunami Swim Club.

A few years back, the swim club raised enough money to get Olympian swimmer Jessica Hardy to Seward. Jacoby wears the pink goggles Hardy gave her in her meets.

The Seward swim community is small. Spanos said there’s also a sense of community across the Kenai Peninsula and Alaska. 

“Homer, Kenai, Soldotna. It’s really really a tight-knit group,” Spanos said. “And I think that’s what makes it special, that even though she is just from Seward, Alaska, there are a ton of people that are cheering her on.”

Jacoby and her Seward teammates swim in a 25-meter pool ― half the size of an Olympic pool. D’Amico knows of just one Olympic-sized swimming pool in Alaska, in Anchorage. But it’s divided in half most of the year.

While juggling her junior year at Seward High School, Jacoby’s been swimming in Anchorage. That’s where Cliff Murray, coach of the Northern Lights Swim Club, has been working with her. 

He said she’s always been a strong swimmer. But she’s also a delight to work with.

“She’s just always the most gregarious, fun and kind person,” Murray said. “I honestly think that she’s going to be great for Team USA because she’s going to be like that with the team.”

Murray said it means a lot for kids to see one of their own make it to the big leagues. He thinks that’s especially impactful in professional sports, which he said can be very image-driven.

“It shows those kids that you can be a really sweet, kind person and still achieve greatness in a sport,” Murray said. “You don’t have to be a cocky superstar or anything like that. You can be kind and sweet and still just be a rockstar.”

The 2021 Olympics and Olympic Trials were both pushed back amid the pandemic. The Olympics are now scheduled for this July in Tokyo, Japan.

Until then, Jacoby and other members of the U.S. women’s team will be training, at a camp this summer and then in Tokyo.

Jacoby’s fans will be following from home. Murray said the swim club plans on having a watch party for the Olympics. 

“I think I might just cancel everything on the day that she’s supposed to be swimming and make it all about getting to experience that with her while she’s doing it,” Murray said.

He thinks she has a legitimate shot at a medal.

Jacoby swims once more later this week, the women’s 200-meter breaststroke, in which she’s ranked 15 out of 54 swimmers.

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