Lydia Jacoby had plans to attend the Tokyo Olympics as a fan last summer, and if you told her 18 months ago that spectators wouldn’t be allowed, even at the postponed Games, she’d surely have been devastated.
Little could the 17-year-old have imagined then, she’d swim her way to the Games as an athlete and become an Olympic gold medallist.
Jacoby won the women’s 100-metre breaststroke event on Tuesday, besting reigning Olympic champion and world-record holder Lilly King who won bronze. South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker finished second to claim silver.
Jacoby arrived at the 50-metre wall in third place, trailing Schoenmaker and American teammate King, but slowly pulled ahead in the final stretch of the race to win by 0.27 seconds with a time of 1:04.95 and pull off the upset of the Games so far. Her immediate reaction said it all.
"I was definitely racing for a medal. I knew I had it in me," Jacoby said. "I wasn't really expecting a gold medal, so when I looked up and saw the scoreboard, it was insane."
Jacoby became one of the youngest American swimmers to win gold. Only Olympic legend Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin have been younger gold-medal winners in the last 20 years.
The underdog story has layers. Jacoby is the only Olympic swimmer to ever come from Alaska, a state which only has one 50-metre pool, and never swam in an Olympic-sized pool until last month.
She qualified for the Olympics at U.S. trials in June but finished behind King who was unbeaten in the 100-metre breaststroke for five and a half years before arriving in Tokyo.
Despite the upset, King was gracious after the race and immediately congratulated Jacoby in the pool.
“I'm surprisingly OK right now,” said King. “Very happy with my race, and so excited for Lydia."
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