Alaska's first Olympic swimmer wins gold

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Lydia Jacoby is Alaska's first Olympic swimming champ after winning 100m breaststroke gold.
Camera IconLydia Jacoby is Alaska's first Olympic swimming champ after winning 100m breaststroke gold. Credit: AP

When you're a swimmer from Alaska, there are some misguided stereotypes that must be laughed off.

Lydia Jacoby has surely heard them all before.

"She practically swims in iced-over lakes," United States teammate Gunnar Bentz said.

Uhh, no.

Jacoby does her swimming at a pool, though even that has been a bit of a challenge during the coronavirus era.

No matter.

She's an Olympic champion.

Jacoby, a 17-year-old who hails from tiny town of Seward, Alaska (population: 2,773), pulled off a stunning upset in the 100m breaststroke on Tuesday, knocking off defending champion and fellow American Lilly King.

Jacoby had already distinguished herself as the first swimmer from the 49th state to make the US Olympic swimming team.

She capped her remarkable journey with the biggest prize of all - before she even starts her senior year of high school.

"A lot of big-name swimmers come from big, powerhouse clubs," Jacoby said.

"Me coming from a small club, in a state with such a small population, really shows everyone that you can do it no matter where you're from."

Jacoby benefited from the Olympics being pushed back a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, though it didn't always seem that way.

Her local pool closed as COVID-19 spread around the world, forcing her train at a venue about two and a half hours away in the state's biggest city, Anchorage.

She had qualified to swim at the US Olympic trials in 2020, though she didn't have much shot of making the team.

In fact, her family had already made plans to visit Tokyo as spectators, planning to soak up the atmosphere and give Jacoby an idea of what she'd be chasing in 2024.

Of course, the pandemic changed everything.

Jacoby kept training and knocking off time at a dizzying rate, and qualified for the 100m breaststroke in the second spot behind King at last month's trials.

Jacoby believed she had a shot at a medal in Tokyo, but she never thought it would be gold.

"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."

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