Olympic Dream Leads USC’s Anicka Delgado to Scratch NCAAs

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Anicka Delgado; Photo Courtesy: USC Athletics

Olympic Dream Leads USC’s Anicka Delgado to Scratch NCAAs

NCAAs was never part of the plan for Anicka Delgado this season. The freshman at USC has geared the last year-plus of her life toward qualifying for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo to represent Ecuador, as she did at the World Championships in 2019.

It wasn’t until the NCAA decreed in October that winter athletes in 2020-21 would be extended an extra year of eligibility due to season limitations wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic that Delgado began to reconsider taking a redshirt year.

So when the freshman at USC announced last week that she’d scratch her three swims – the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly – so that she can swim at the South American Championships, it wasn’t a case of focusing on what she’d lose at NCAAs. Instead, the view turned to a season she’d unexpectedly gained.

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Anicka Delgado; Photo Courtesy: USC Athletics

“I wasn’t even planning on going to Pac-12s or swimming with USC at all until they announced it was a free year and I had the opportunity to get some extra racing in,” Delgado told Swimming World last week. “My main goal and what my scheduled kind of looked like this year was training for my Olympic trials and going from there.”

The South American Championships (pdf) will be held March 14-29 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with swimming contested from March 16-19. The 45th edition of the continental championships is one of a few prized chances to score Olympic A and B cuts. Given Ecuador’s limited swimming depth, a B cut is the goal for Delgado to put herself in better position for a universality spot.

That’s been the goal for Delgado, that native of Laguna Hills, Calif., who is an Ecuadorean citizen through her father and coach, Felipe Delgado. For most of the last year, the CIF champion has been training with Felipe at a local country club in a lane by herself. Anicka Delgado had planned to take a redshirt year from USC, do online classes and slog through the year of training with her dad.

But the NCAA’s announcement opened up a chance to race with the Trojans, which Delgado leapt at.

The enthusiasm paid off at the Pac-12 Championships with a debut performance to remember. Delgado finished third in the 100 free in 48.44, the only freshman in the championship final. She tied for fifth in the 50 free at 22.28 seconds, was eighth in the 100 fly at 52.72, led off the runner-up USC 400 free relay and anchored the Trojans’ 200 free and 200 medley relays to bronze medals. With fellow freshman Kaitlyn Dobler, the Trojans have a formidable half of a relay to build around for the foreseeable future.

“That was a great meet for me to go and race,” she said. “There have been so many meets that haven’t been going on because of COVID, so having the opportunity to go there was great int eh first place because it allowed me to race against great collegiate athletes and get some fast swims in. Not only that, but it also gave me a chance to go and have fun and remember the reason why I started swimming. … Being able to swim on a team was the coolest thing ever. It was so much fun. I just had fun – that’s the one word to describe the entire meet. It was an amazing meet.”

The race also defuses some of the pressure that Delgado felt building on her solo workouts, with only one objective on the horizon. She said her dad has been helpful in talking away some of the pressure she puts on herself. When it came to the decision to skip NCAAs, USC coach Jeremy Kipp was in full accord.

“He said, ‘Go follow your dreams and then come back and do everything you need to do in college afterwards,’” Delgado said. “It’s giving me a great opportunity to qualify for the Olympics this year and then go and live out my college years in the upcoming four years that I have.”

That dream looms large. She visits Ecuador often and has tight ties to family there. She’s gotten a taste of the international scene at Worlds. Upgrading to the biggest international stage she can get, the Olympics would be a dream come true.

“Being able to represent it has made me love it even more,” she said. “And even better, I know it’s made my family so proud, my dad’s side of the family especially. And being able to do that is amazing.”

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