Tokyo Flashback: Fast Rising Lydia Jacoby Earns Gold in 100 Breaststroke Stunner

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Lydia Jacoby (USA) and Lilly King (USA) celebrate after the women's 100m breaststroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports

Tokyo Flashback: Fast Rising Lydia Jacoby Earns Gold in 100 Breaststroke Stunner

One year has passed since the Olympic Games, delayed by a year due to COVID-19, unfolded in Tokyo. To celebrate what went down in the Japanese capital, Swimming World is revisiting the championship finals – each on their one-year anniversary – by once again running the stories that were posted after the medals were decided.

The plan was set. If Lydia Jacoby was going to be in Tokyo for the Olympics in 2020, it would be as a ticketed spectator.

A tentative plan was sketched out. Jacoby would, just after her sophomore season of high school, get a first taste of major American competition at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, no mean feat for an Alaskan swimmer. Then she’d get to see what the Olympics were like alongside her parents, Richard and Leslie, boat captains in Seward with a penchant for adventure (and for whom Tokyo isn’t that far away).

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Lydia Jacoby (USA) celebrates after winning the women's 100m breaststroke final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Lydia Jacoby; Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

With the COVID-19 pandemic, there were no tickets available for the Tokyo Games in 2021. So Jacoby had to get there the hard way. And she brings back a golden ticket from Tokyo.

Jacoby pulled off a shocker Tuesday morning in Tokyo. Her time of 1:04.95 spoiled what was anticipated to be a two-person race between Tatjana Schoenmaker and Lilly King, usurping the Olympic and world record holders for gold.

“It’s been incredible not only, I think having this extra year and having it be such a hard year for the whole world, it means a little bit extra to be here as an Olympian and to be able to be part of the whole world coming together after all we’ve been through,” Jacoby said. “It definitely means a lot.”

It’s quite a journey for Jacoby, the University of Texas commit who currently swims for Seward Tsunami Swim Club under Meghan O’Leary and still has one year left at Seward High School. There’s no sugarcoating the fact that had the Olympics occurred as scheduled, Jacoby would not have been there last year. She admitted it at Trials this year, where she beat a crowd of veterans to be the second seed behind King and the first Alaskan swimmer to qualify for the Olympics. She reiterated it with a gold medal around her neck Tuesday.

The rise has been vertiginous for Jacoby. She went 1:06.38 in a TYR Pro Swim Series stop in Mission Viejo in May, announcing her presence as an under-the-radar contender for the Olympics. Even then, soaring to Olympic gold would’ve been wildly ambitious. But a strong Trials, then a rigorous training camp with the U.S., has pushed her to new heights.

“I think going into Mission Viejo, I hadn’t really competed for a long time, so that was a big thing with all the training I had been doing,” Jacoby said. “And after Trials and having that great taper, I was able to drop some more. And the benefit of having all of Team USA behind me the last three weeks has been really inspiring.”

There Jacoby was Tuesday, with Schoenmaker and King tussling on the first 50 and Jacoby stalking in lane 3. She made her move in the second 50, and with 15 meters to go, surged ahead.

Jul 27, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; From left Tatjana Schoenmaker (RSA) , Lydia Jacoby (USA) and Lilly King (USA) with their medals during the medals ceremony for the women's 100m breaststroke during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

From left, Tatjana Schoenmaker, Lydia Jacoby and Lilly King; Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Schoenmaker, who’d set the Olympic record in prelims at 1:04.82, touched second in 1:05.22. She’s the first South African female to medal in the pool since Penny Heyns in the same event in Sydney in 2000.

“I can’t be any more happy,” Schoenmaker said. “…. It hasn’t sunk in yet. It was just a quick swim in the pool.”

King was thwarted in her bid to be the first woman to repeat as Olympic 100 breast champ. The world record holder clocked in at 1:05.54.

King went over quickly to congratulate Jacoby. She was gracious post-race, saying that it was just Lydia’s day to win, even in an event where King has rarely experienced defeat. Her only blanch was, jokingly, when Jacoby shared that she was 12 years old during the Rio Olympics, and a jab at Jacoby, who King met at an Indiana University swim camp and tried to recruit, for not choosing to become a Hoosier.

Though Jacoby has come from far afield of the mainstream of USA Swimming, she’s made a big impression.

“She’s just a sweetheart,” Regan Smith, the bronze medalist in the women’s 100 backstroke, said. “I’ve had so much fun getting to know here. I’ve gotten to hang out with her one-on-one a few times, and she’s just so much fun. The way she comes across when you’re introduced is exactly the person she is. She’s someone you want on your team, absolutely. She’s just a ray of sunshine, and I really, really love her and I’m so happy for her.”

But the day, a most improbable day even by Olympic standards, belonged to Jacoby.

“It was crazy,” Jacoby said. “I was definitely racing for a medal, I knew I had it in me but I wasn’t really expecting a gold medal. When I looked up at the scoreboard it was insane.”

Women’s 100 Breaststroke

  • World record: Lilly King, United States, 1:04.13 (2017)
  • Olympic record: Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa, 1:04.82 (2021)
  1. Lydia Jacoby, United States, 1:04.95
  2. Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa, 1:05.22
  3. Lilly King, United States, 1:05.54
  4. Evgeniia Chikunova, Russia, 1:05.90
  5. Yuliya Efimova, Russia, 1:06.02
  6. Sophie Hansson, Sweden, 1:06.07
  7. Martina Carraro, Italy, 1:06.19
  8. Mona McSharry, Ireland, 1:06.94


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