Lydia Jacoby Back to Top Form, International Return in Sight

Lydia Jacoby -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Lydia Jacoby Back to Top Form, International Return in Sight

Four months before Lydia Jacoby became an Olympic champion with her come-from-behind victory in the women’s 100 breaststroke final in Tokyo, she was completely unheard of on the national level. It was in mid-April 2021 at a TYR Pro Swim Series stop in Mission Viejo, Calif., when Jacoby cut more than a second off her best time (1:07.57 to 1:06.99 in prelims to 1:06.38 in finals) that Jacoby became a legitimate threat for the No. 2 spot among Americans in the event behind world-record holder Lilly King.

Over the next few months, Jacoby’s explosion continued, becoming the first-ever U.S. Olympic swimmer from Alaska before winning the aforementioned gold medal. At age 17, she was one of the most promising young stars in the sport.

But that sudden and shocking breakthrough was not a sign of further continuous improvement. In fact, Jacoby struggled in 2022, missing out on the World Championships team by nine hundredths in an extremely tight finish in the 100 breast at the U.S. International Team Trials. Her time was 1:06.21, more than one-and-a-quarter seconds slower than her mark from the Olympics, but the clock was merely a symptom of the mental challenges she faced in the wake of the Olympics.

“I had a pretty big burnout with swimming, and it was a pretty big struggle day-in and day-out to get to the pool,” Jacoby said at the 2023 NCAA Championships. “I graduated [high school] a semester early. I didn’t have a lot going on outside of the pool either, so it was hard mentally to balance everything. I was struggling with not getting the performance I wanted in the water.”

Fortunately for Jacoby, her slump would not be permanent. A change of scenery and the beginning of her college career at the University of Texas quickly brought back the magic of her Olympic run. Training alongside Anna Elendt, the World Championships bronze medalist in the 100 breast last year for Germany, and the entire Longhorns team reinvigorated Jacoby.

Numerous strong performances throughout the season culminated at the NCAA Championships with another back-half-fueled victory. In the 100-yard breast, Jacoby overtook Elendt and Tennessee’s Mona McSharry to win her first NCAA title, part of Texas’ runnerup effort in the team competition.

During the first year following Tokyo, Jacoby said she carried with her the pressure of needing to match her Olympic performances, which weighed her down. “I just kind of switched that mentality around to, ‘I’ve done this, and I have nothing to prove,'” she said at NCAAs. “So just swimming freely is the biggest thing.”

The results are showing in long course, too. At the April TYR Pro Swim Series meet in Westmont, Ill., Jacoby scored a win over King in the 100-meter breast with a time of 1:06.09, and racing in the Mare Nostrum series Wednesday in Barcelona, Jacoby vaulted ahead of South Africa’s Lara van Niekerk, the Worlds bronze medalist in the 50 breast, to win by more than a second.

Jacoby’s time of 1:05.84 was her fastest ever aside from her results at 2021’s Olympic Trials and Olympics — and faster than the winning time in the event from last year’s World Championships. She ranks third in the world behind Russia’s Evgeniia Chikunova (who will be absent from this year’s World Championships along with all her compatriots) and the Netherlands’ Tes Schouten.

Barring any unexpected results from King or another swimmer at this week’s TYR Pro Swim Series meet (ironically, in the same Mission Viejo pool that housed Jacoby’s original breakout two years ago), Jacoby will likely head to next month’s U.S. Nationals, the qualifying meet for Worlds, as a slight favorite in the event.

Her progress veered slightly after the highest high imaginable in Tokyo, but once again, Jacoby looks like a star, with big tests awaiting on the national level in late June and potentially internationally one month later.

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