TOKYO — Lydia Jacoby, a 17-year-old from Alaska, stunned reigning gold medalist Lilly King and won the 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Games on Tuesday.
Jacoby came home in 1:04.95. South Africa’s Tatjana Schoenmaker finished second (1:05.22). King, the Rio champ, finished third, 0.59 seconds off the pace.
After touching the wall and looking up at the scoreboard to see her name first, Jacoby immediately thought to herself, "That's insane."
"It was crazy," she said. "I was definitely racing for a medal. I knew I had it in me. I wasn't really expecting a gold medal. When I looked up and saw that scoreboard, it was insane."
Back in Seward, a gym full of Jacoby's high school classmates went nuts as she pulled ahead at the end.
When you've got the whole state behind you >>>@USASwimming x #TokyoOlympics pic.twitter.com/S5r6pCxeMq
— Team USA (@TeamUSA) July 27, 2021
How "insane" is Jacoby's victory?
For starters, there isn't an Olympic-length pool in Seward, Alaska, where Jacoby lives. During the pandemic, Jacoby had to move to Anchorage, two hours away, just to train. And if not for the pandemic, providing her another year of improvement, Jacoby likely would have been in Tokyo last year as a spectator.
She was the 18th-fastest woman in the 100 breast in 2019, the last full calendar year of competition. She lowered her time from 1:08.12 in 2019 to 1:05.28 at U.S. Trials in June. Tuesday night, she broke the 1:05 mark.
"I don't think I would have been prepared last year at all," she said at Trials. "I think this extra year of training I've grown physically and mentally."
King came into the race as the favorite. When not disqualified, she entered Tokyo unbeaten in the event in five-and-a-half years. At times since her gold in Rio, and especially since her world record at the world championships a year later, she felt unchallenged.
“When there's nothing on the line, she's bored,” said her coach, Ray Looze.
She’d yearn for a challenge, and here in Tokyo, she got it.
Schoenmaker broke King’s Olympic record in preliminary heats, and bettered King in the semifinals by 0.33 seconds to earn the top seed in Tuesday’s final.
Those two seemingly would duel it out for gold, and did so over the first 50 meters. But Jacoby never lost contact, and over the last 25 meters surged ahead to pull off the stunning upset.
Walking away afterward, 30 yards behind Jacoby, King looked stunned.
Speaking in the mixed zone afterwards, King took a few questions — "I'm surprisingly OK right now. Very happy with my race, and so excited for Lydia" — but then Jacoby approached, and everybody's attention shifted. Reporters went silent, wanting to talk to the newly crowned champ.
"Off to you kiddo," King said.
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