An Alaskan teenager made history on Tuesday when she became the first swimmer from the state to win an Olympic gold medal — after beating the reigning champion in a major upset that stunned her hometown as much as herself.
Lydia Jacoby, 17, secured the top podium spot after crushing the 100-meter breaststroke at the Tokyo Games and smoking Lilly King — the favored winner and Team USA’s defending gold medalist.
Jacoby swam the stroke in just 1 minute, 4.95 seconds while South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker came in second at 1:05.22 and King took the bronze at 1:05.54.
The teenager, who’s entering her senior year in high school and will be joining the University of Texas’s swim team come graduation, got her start in the pool while growing up in a small maritime community.
Here are six interesting things to know about Team USA’s latest champion.
Jacoby’s journey to the Olympics started at age 10
Alaska’s top swim coaches have had their eyes on Jacoby ever since a breakout performance when she was still in elementary school, the Alaska Daily News reported.
“She had a really great breakout meet as a 10-year-old at the Western zone championships,” Cliff Murray, a longtime swim coach in Anchorage swim, told the outlet.
“Since then she’s been on everybody’s radar, at least in Alaska.”
Murray pointed to Jacoby’s kick, crucial to the success of a breaststroker, and called it “a God-given gift.”
“That kick has always been really great.”
Jacoby first qualified for the Olympics at age 14
The teen hit the qualifying standard for the 100-meter breaststroke at the 2018 US Winter Nationals in North Carolina about three years before she won the gold medal, the outlet reported.
She swam a 1:10.45 in the competition and has since shaved that time down by about 5 seconds.
Joining the swim team was the norm in Jacoby’s hometown
Growing up in Seward, a small port city in southern Alaska, most kids join the swim team because “in a maritime community, it’s important,” Jacoby explained to the outlet.
Seward, a port city nestled between mountains and the ocean, has a population of just under 3,000 and an economy driven by the commercial fishing industry and seasonal tourism, according to the city’s website.
“Adventurous travelers journey to Seward to hike stunning trails, experience abundant wildlife, paddle and fish vibrant waters, and to explore our historic community,” the website states.
“This is the ancestral homeland of the Alutiiq, or Sugpiaq, people, who have called the rocky coasts and glacial bays home since time immemorial.”
The pandemic helped Jacoby train harder than she ever did before
At the start of the pandemic last spring, the only pool in Jacoby’s hometown was shut down for months, leaving her with no place to swim.
When pools in Anchorage reopened before they did in Seward, Murray invited the teen to train with the Northern Lights Swim Club and her parents rented an apartment for her and her mom so they could avoid the 120-mile commute.
For the first time in her swim career, the teen was training twice a day and through all seasons.
“It became a bigger part of my life than ever before,” she told the outlet.
“The focus was on training all summer and I carried that into the fall. Then this spring I really put my head down and worked harder.”
Prior to the pandemic, Jacoby’s personal best was 1:08.12 and her winning time Tuesday was about three seconds faster.
Jacoby is a musician and a writer
In case swimming doesn’t work out for Jacoby, she’s also an accomplished double bassist, guitarist and singer who spent several summers performing with the Snow River String Band at Alaska folk festivals.
She has sung the national anthem before a number of swim meets and worked as an intern at the Seward Journal last summer.
Both of Jacoby’s parents are boat captains
Rich and Leslie, the champion’s parents, are both licensed boat captains in Seward whose lives revolve around the water.
Rich works at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center as a maritime instructor and also leads expeditions to Antarctica.
Leslie helps run a marine science program at Kenai Fjords Tours as an educational coordinator.