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Alaska Has an Olympic Champion in an Unexpected Sport

Lydia Jacoby pulls off stunning swimming upset
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 27, 2021 12:41 AM CDT
Alaska Has an Olympic Champion in an Unexpected Sport
Lydia Jacoby, of the United States, reacts after winning the final of the women's 100-meter breaststroke at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.   (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

(Newser) – Alaska is renowned for its majestic natural beauty. The snowy peaks. The glistening glaciers. The sparkling fjords. An Arctic paradise, for sure. Swimming? That’s never been much of a thing in the 49th US state. Until now. Seventeen-year-old Lydia Jacoby pulled off a stunning victory in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke on Tuesday, upsetting American teammate and defending champion Lilly King, the AP reports. Alaska—of all places—has a champion at the pool. “I was definitely racing for a medal. I knew I had it in me,” says Lydia, who hails from Seward (population: 2,733). “I wasn’t really expecting a gold medal, so when I looked up and saw the scoreboard it was insane.” Only a handful of Alaska swimmers had even qualified for the US Olympic trials. Lydia was the first to ever make the team.

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When she touched the wall first, it set off a giddy celebration back home. “A lot of big-name swimmers come from big, powerhouse clubs,” Lydia 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.” Lydia's winning time was 1 minute, 4.95 seconds. Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa claimed the silver in 1:05.22, while King gave the Americans another medal by taking the bronze in 1:05.54. Lydia's unique journey has also added a bit of intrigue to a swimmer who is heading into her senior year of high school in one of her country's most remote outposts. Last year, she had to deal with her local pool closing during the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing her to train about 2 1/2 hours away in the state's biggest city, Anchorage.

(Read more Tokyo Olympics stories.)

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