Lydia Jacobi didn’t know what to do.
The 17-year-old touched the pool wall, turned around to check the result, a stunned look on her face.
Los palos inflables chocaban unos con otros para aplaudir, las cornetas chirriaban y el puñado de personas que pudo entrar en el Centro Acuático de Tokio gritaba lo suficiente como para que el edificio de 15,000 plazas al menos pare quera unest moment, Empty.
The first gold medal at the Summer Games for America’s women’s swimming team came not from a big name or a world record holder, but from an Alaskan native who will be in her last year of high school this fall. She is the first Olympic swimmer in the country’s history.
Jacobi walked away in the final stage of the 100-meter breaststroke to outpace second-placed South African Tatiana Schoonmaker, Olympic gold defender and world record holder Lilly King, in one of the biggest surprises in the swimming competition.
“I knew I was doing really well, but I wasn’t really expecting a gold medal,” Jacoby said. “When I looked at the scoreboard, it was crazy.”
After winning the Test at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, King won the world champion titles in 2017 and 2019.
But Schoenemaker, known for her prowess in the 200-meter breaststroke, beat King to break her own Olympic record during the semifinals on Monday. This was King’s first test loss since 2015. That kind of setback often prompts her to do something great.
“The higher the stakes, the greater the pressure, the happier she is,” Kings coach Ray Loews said last month. The best of Lily.”
That’s what seemed to happen in the first half of Tuesday’s final, when King took the lead. But Schoenmaker took the lead at the 50-meter mark. Jacobi, one of 10 teens on her team, won both at the finish line.
He finished the match in one minute 4.95 seconds, 0.27 seconds ahead of Schoenmaker and about six tenths of a second ahead of King. The gold-medal-winning defender slid under the lane lines and trapped Jacobi in a bear hug as he patted the water in celebration.
“We love that gold stays in the American family, so this girl has been competing her whole life and I’m so proud to be her teammate,” King told NBC.
Jacobi grew up in Seward, Alaska, and five years ago he joined a swimming clinic where coaches included Jessica Hardy, a former Olympic athlete who trained with the Troy Swimming Club. The Jacoby family moved to Anchorage during the pandemic to find an open pool where he could train. This allowed the sport to be an important part of his life during the one-year postponement.
“This extra year of training I’ve grown both physically and mentally,” he said in June. “I don’t think I would have been ready last year.”
Jacobi’s victory was a bright spot on a rough day for America.
Australia’s Kylie McKeown won the women’s 100m backstroke, setting an Olympic record in one of the games’ most contested events. This was the fifth time this week that an Olympic record in this event had been broken. Young American Reagan Smith broke the record twice, including during the semi-finals, but came third in the final.
Ryan Murphy, world record holder and gold medalist in the men’s 100m backstroke, did no better. Russians Yevgeny Rylov and Kliment Kolesnikov finished 1-2, while Murphy took the bronze. The defeat cut the United States’ streak to winning the pilot gold at six consecutive Olympics.
Katie Ledecky, for her part, posted the third-fastest time in the 200m freestyle semi-final ahead of Wednesday’s grueling double day, swimming in the 200 and 1500 finals in just over an hour. She is almost certain to take the long-distance gold medal – her first time in the women’s program at the Olympics – as she clocked the 11th fastest in history. One of them occurred during playoffs on Monday evening.
“None of this seemed unusual to me, but I knew the weather would be good because I swam well,” Ledecky said after 1500. “I am in a good moment. I felt a good stroke. So I knew it was going to be very easy.”
The 200m advanced another duel with Ariarn Titmus – one of three to take place during the final – after the Australian beat Ledecky in the 400m this week.
But the flood of attention Tuesday – and the gold medal – belonged to Jacobi.
“A lot of the big-name swimmers come from big clubs,” she said. “But coming from a small club and from a country with such a small population shows that it can be done no matter where you come from.”
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