On April 10, at the finals of the TYR Pro Swim Series in Mission Viejo, California, Seward swimming sensation Lydia Jacoby attained a new personal best time in the 100-meter breaststroke at 1:06.38, placing her second behind Olympic gold medalist and current world record holder Lilly King. Jacoby’s time ranks her among the top three all-time female swimmers in the 17-18 year old age group, and the all-time top 14 Americans of any age.
“Going into this meet, I just hoped to be around my best times,” Jacoby said. “I was hoping to drop a little bit, but I didn’t really go in thinking I’d drop that much. It was really incredible to have that much success completely unrested and swimming against the best people in the world.”
At the preliminaries on Friday night, Jacoby had already achieved a new personal best with 1:06.99, beating her previous best of 1:07.57, which she swam at the US Open in San Antonio last November. Her November time had dropped roughly a second from her previous best, but even after achieving the milestone, Jacoby knew she could beat it.
“There’s not very many women in the 107s,” she said. “I knew that wasn’t my best race though. I really thought I could go faster. Just based on the way I swam. It wasn’t the smartest.”
Jacoby’s time at the TYR final places her third going into Olympic trials behind Lilly King and Pan Am Games gold medalist Annie Lazor. Though Jacoby’s 1:06.38 beat Lazor’s 1:06.86 at the TYR final, Lazor previously swam a 1.06.05 in 2018, which ranks her second in contention for the Olympic team. Trials for this year’s Tokyo Olympics are set to take place in Omaha, Nebraska from June 13-20. The top two trial finishers will be selected for the team, regardless of their previous best times, and though King is favored to take the top spot, Jacoby is confident about her ability to secure the second.
“At this point that second Olympic team spot is pretty wide open,” she said, “and I think I have just as good of a shot as anyone at grabbing it.”
A Seward High School Junior, Jacoby has already committed to the University of Texas, where she hopes the world class Longhorn swim program will further perfect the skills she has honed for the past eleven years. An avid swimmer from an early age, Jacoby joined the Seward Tsunami Swim Club when she was six. At ten she began swimming competitively, and by age twelve she had broken her first state record.
“From that point forward I kind of realized that it was something that I excelled at and I wanted to pursue,” she said. “From there I’d just gotten more serious about it. Of course it’s still a super fun thing that I do. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t.”
From the first steps of her journey to compete for an Olympic seed, Jacoby readily admits it was a road she could never have walked alone. She credits the support and motivating drive of her coaches, Tsunami Swim Club Head Coach Meghan O’Leary and Co-Head Coach Solomon D’Amico, for the current state of her success, both in and out of the pool.
“I definitely want to give a big thank you to both Sol and Meghan for everything that they’ve done for me over these last few years, and all the time that they’ve put in,” she said. “It’s been huge. Also, everyone in the community has been so supportive, and it’s just been so cool to have everyone reaching out and be excited for me and be watching for what I’m doing.”
Back in June that support was extended to Anchorage after COVID-19 forced the closure of Seward’s pool last spring. Jacoby accepted an invitation to join Anchorage’s Northern Lights Swim Club along with fellow swimmer Madison Story of Homer.
“Now that the pool’s back open, I’ve been kind of going back and forth, training with both teams, Seward Tsunamis and Northern Lights,” she said, “and it’s been really great to have that team of different coaches all working with me.”
Jacoby credited her Northern Lights training with developing her aerobic endurance, invaluable in honing her 200-meter breaststroke time. At 2:27.39, her TYR final time shaved a nothing-to-sneeze-at five seconds from her previous best of 2:32.36 in the longer event.
“Because both clubs practice very differently, I kind of feel like I’ve expanded my horizons in swimming a little bit,” she said, “kind of building that aerobic endurance side as well as my sprinting side, which has helped my 200.”
Ranking among the world’s top swimmers is a considerable achievement for any 17-year-old, and even if it was the only pursuit at which she excelled, Jacoby would still be worthy of the label ‘prodigy’, but the success of her other extracurricular endeavors places the Olympic contender firmly in a class all her own. In addition to working as a reporter for both her school paper and the Seward Journal, Jacoby was a cast member in several Port City Players productions. She also played bluegrass in the Snow River String Band for six years.
“I took piano lessons for years growing up, so I play piano, guitar, upright bass, and I sing,” she said.
No less impressive is her academic performance. Though subject to change, Jacoby’s current collegiate plans include a major in Textile and Apparel Design and Management at Texas.
“I would like to work in the fashion industry when I’m older,” she said. “I’m also interested in journalism, so maybe incorporating that into some sort of fashion magazine position. They also have an amazing business school, so right now I’m thinking about minoring in business. I think that would be a great tool to have in my belt.”
Though not losing sight of her longterm goals, Jacoby has trained her immediate focus on the Olympic trials awaiting her mid-June. Her plan will now be to adhere to the training regimen designed to coincide her peak performance with the final test of her Olympic worthiness.
“[My coaches have] worked really hard with me over the last several years, but especially this last year, to put together a training program moving toward trials,” she said. “All my training for the last several years has been to have me peak around trials, so I’m pretty excited. I’m just going to be putting my head down and training for the next couple of weeks.”
Regardless of Jacoby’s trial performance, her coaches can scarcely contain their pride at all she has accomplished to date.
“She is a coach’s dream to coach, athletically, and she’s very engaged in swim practices,” said Coach O’Leary. “She has this hard work ethic and determination, and she sets goals that she follows through on. All of those things are lining up to really work in her favor.”
As to the prospect that she may not qualify this year, Jacoby remains determined yet practical. “I have my whole career ahead of me. I’m hardly halfway through high school. By the time Trials comes around three years from now, I will be training at Texas and I’ll be in peak shape, and I think I definitely have a good shot at making the team that year.”
Olympic trials will be held from June 13-20 in Omaha, Nebraska. If she qualifies, Lydia Jacoby will go on to represent Team USA at the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo this July. For more information visit usaswimming.org/trials.