U.S. Olympic Trials: High Schoolers Overtaking Veterans in Omaha

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Torri Huske & Claire Curzan. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Each Olympic Trials is bound to bring some young upstarts that prove they are ready to take on the moment. In a ‘pandemic’ Olympic Trials in a five-year cycle, the amount of young teenagers making the team was bound to be higher than in years past.

Thus far, four high schoolers have made the team to Tokyo – Torri Huske (18), Claire Curzan (16), Lydia Jacoby (17), and Bella Sims (16). Add in Emma Weyant and Regan Smith, who deferred a year to stay with their club teams, and six teenagers have made this year’s Olympic team. Huske is set to attend Stanford this fall. Jacoby just finished her junior year and is headed to Texas. Curzan and Sims are uncommitted, with Curzan entering her senior year this year and Sims her junior year.

High schoolers making the Olympic team is no strange feat – but it is always a big deal when it happens. At the last Olympics, only 19-year-old Katie Ledecky had yet to attend college on the U.S. team for Rio. In 2012, however, three high school girls – Missy Franklin (17), Lia Neal (17) and Ledecky (15) – made the team for London.

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Olympic Trials runner-up Lydia Jacoby. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In 2008, four women – Allison Schmitt (18), Kathleen Hersey (19), Chloe Sutton (16) and Elizabeth Beisel (15) – made the team for Beijing out of high school. Four years prior in Athens, Caroline Bruce (18), Katie Hoff (15), Rhi Jeffrey (17), Dana Vollmer (16) and Amanda Weir (18) made the team out of high school.

Making an Olympic team in high school is no easy feat, and it has been done before. But it’s still a unique accomplishment.

The youth movement in this year’s Trials is partial evidence of the pandemic’s effects on aerobic training and some club teams’ easier access to train in an organized fashion in the summer of 2020, compared to some college teams that were unable to hold workouts last summer.

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Torri Huske has made the most of her first Olympic Trials. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

We are a year removed from the total lockdown of last summer, so things have worked themselves out, but some the barriers posed have been hard to overcome. Many of the veterans that were considered shoe-ins to make this year’s team – Melanie MargalisAnnie Lazor, Leah Smith, and Kelsi Dahlia – are down to their last gasp on this back end of the meet after getting beat by some of the aforementioned young guns in their pet events.

For some of the teens making it, it isn’t a total surprise. Huske and Curzan have been the top two 100 butterflyers all year. It seemed every time each of them stepped up to the blocks, they would set a best time. In the pre-meet predictions, our staff almost unanimously picked Curzan to win the 100 butterfly, and fully expected Huske to make her way on to the team in at least one event. Huske and Curzan both made their Team USA debuts at the 2019 World Juniors, where Huske won the 100 butterfly and was on three gold medal winning relays. Curzan won silver in the 100 back and bronze in the 100 fly and led off the winning medley relay.

Elsewhere, Jacoby was a popular spoiler pick, but it seemed like her time would come three years from now, for a berth on the Olympic Team for Paris. Jacoby, who is Alaska’s first ever Olympic swimmer, showed no signs of being a deer in the headlights as she grabbed the second spot in the 100 breaststroke to sit second in the world for 2021. She made her name known when she won the 2019 summer junior national title and was the first Alaskan swimmer to achieve that honor as well.

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Bella Sims finished fifth in 200 free at US Olympic Trials. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Sims emerged as an up and comer in the post-pandemic months when she posted some impressive swims at the U.S. Open in November. Sims did not compete at the 2019 U.S. Nationals, finishing third in the 200 free at the 2019 NCSAs. She raced at the 2019 U.S. Open, the last big national level meet before the pandemic postponed the Olympic year, and she finished as high as ninth in the 800 free and 12th in the 1500. She hails from the Sandpipers of Nevada, coached by Ron Aitken, who put two athletes on the Olympic team last night.

In addition to Sims, 20-year-old Erica Sullivan, who also deferred her enrollment to the University of Texas, finished second in the 1500 to secure a spot on the team to Tokyo.

Sullivan, although not a teenager anymore, still trains with her club team in the Las Vegas area and has yet to attend college. She has been a rising star in the open water ranks – winning the 10K national title earlier this year, and looks to be the new face in that course after Olympians Haley Anderson and Ashley Twichell hang up the goggles this summer.

Allison Schmitt, who last night made her fourth Olympic team at age 31, commended those teenagers who made the Olympic team, and was eager to get a chance to meet them and guide them through the next five weeks to the Games.

“Watching reactions and watching the girls make the team, you can just see the pride and joy that they have, not only completing but knowing that they’re going to Tokyo to be Olympians, be a USA Olympian, which is a huge honor,” Schmitt said in her press conference. “So I’m excited to get to know them throughout these next few weeks and I’m excited to cheer them on in Tokyo.”

This year’s Olympic team still has its share of veterans. Schmitt has made her fourth team – just the fourth American woman to do so. Ledecky has made her third, and defending gold medalist Lilly King is on her second team. But this year’s Tokyo team has a lot of young stars making their first.