Alaska’s gold medal swimmer looked like a winner even before race, dad says

Jacoby’s fans say when she comes home, they’ll be ready to celebrate her Olympic victory together. (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

Alaskans are still celebrating Seward swimmer Lydia Jacoby’s gold medal win in the Olympics.

The 17-year-old shocked the world Monday by winning the 100-meter breaststroke at the Tokyo games.

Her parents, Richard and Leslie Jacoby, said the last couple days have been a whirlwind for Lydia, as news outlets clamored to learn more about the relatively unknown swimmer some are now calling “the Queen in the North.”

While much of the pre-race attention was focused on two other more experienced, record-holding swimmers, Richard told Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove he knew his daughter had the training to be able to win, and her mind was in the right place.

Listen here:

RELATED: Seward swimming in hometown pride for its Olympic champ

The following transcript was lightly edited for clarity.

Richard Jacoby: She told us ahead of time she was feeling really good about it. And that she was well rested and in a pretty good mental space for the race.

And we could see that in the videos in the ready-room — just her body language, the way she was carrying herself, that she was energized and feeling really good about it. That’s nine-tenths of winning a race right there — just being mentally prepared for it and ready for it. And at that point, the effort’s already gone in, the work’s been done. It’s just a matter of putting it all together and pulling it off.

They still don’t know what’s going to happen once they’re up on the blocks. But she did really well, right from the start. She was right where she wanted to be at the turn there. We’ve seen this in a number of races: As long as she’s sort of kept herself fairly close to people in the first half of the race, she’s usually pretty good at running them down in the last half.

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Casey Grove: Why does she have a big surge at the end? Is there any reason for that?

RJ: Some of it, honestly, is optics that make it look like she’s really accelerating at the end, but a lot of it is that she’s maintaining speed, while the other swimmers are sort of getting to the end of the race. For Lydia, she just has to sort of get into her pace in the first half of the race and then charge home on the last half of it. So yeah, I don’t know if that’s anything you can train. It’s just something that — depending on the individual — it’s just how they work through the process.

CG: It certainly made for an exciting race. When when you were watching that finish, I think it sort of flashed up, you know, at one point maybe in the last quarter of the race or something that she was in the lead. Describe that for me, from where you were sitting.

RJ: It’s still so hard to wrap your head around. But, I mean, it’s like I said: We knew when she hit the wall and the last 50 — the last half of the race — she was in a really good position to close and do very well there. Certainly, that last 25 when you could see her pace really locking in and her position — relative to the other swimmers — you could see the whole thing playing out already, even before she touched the wall, that she was charging for home like a freight train.

CG: What did she tell you afterward about how she felt about the race or just the whole thing?

RJ: She’s ecstatic. And she loves that team of people that she’s training with there. And the environment there has been great. And after winning the race, it turned into a real whirlwind of media events there. And there were several hours where she really didn’t have much chance to get her head above water — figuratively speaking.

We had a chance to talk to her sort of briefly in the middle of all that. She gave us a call. It was probably 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. our time. We had a couple minutes touch base and say hello. But we have had a chance to talk to her since then, and she’s feeling really good and happy and sort of getting back into the rest and training routine and hopefully getting ready for relays coming up soon.

CG: Yeah, she’s still racing maybe, huh? And, what was your reaction in the moment that she won? And then I suppose, you know, you’ve had time to maybe reflect on it? How are you feeling just in general about it now?

RJ: We’re immensely proud of her — proud of her, and proud of the effort that’s gone in, on the part of a lot of people, to help get her there. There was a tremendous amount of support from all over the state. And then she’s put in a tremendous amount of effort and time and, yeah, I can’t say how much we’re proud of her.

CG: People in Seward, of course, they’re very proud of Lydia. People in Alaska are very proud of her. And it just seems really different from like, you know, residents of other states going on to do great things. What is that? Why do you think we’re all so emotional and proud of her in this moment like this?

RJ: There’s been a lot of effort all around the state to make this possible, certainly within our swimming community. She’s worked with a lot of different coaches around the state. And outside of the swimming community, Alaska is a huge small town. It sort of feels like people — even if they live in another far-flung part of the state — we’re all a little more connected.

And, I can’t say how much we appreciate all the support that’s come through from all over the state. It’s pretty remarkable to see how excited and enthusiastic everyone is about what this kid’s had a chance to do. And it’s been a big lift and there’s been a lot of people that have made it possible.

Casey Grove is the host of Alaska News Nightly and a general assignment reporter at Alaska Public Media with an emphasis on crime and courts. Reach him at

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