SPORTS-OLY-SWIM-WOMEN-JACOBY-1-LA

U.S. swimmer Lydia Jacoby swims for the gold medal in the 100m Breaststroke at Tokyo Aquatics Center on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

After racing against Seward’s Lydia Jacoby for nearly a decade and forming a friendship in the process, Leslie Spear wasn’t about to miss Jacoby’s Olympic finals swim. 

The problem was that Spear was in Port Lions and not near a television. She improvised.

The 2021 graduate of Kodiak High School FaceTimed her parents back in Kodiak using the WiFi signal at the Port Lions library. At first, the connection through her cell phone was spotty, but cleared up seconds before Jacoby’s 100-meter breaststroke gold-medal swim Tuesday — Monday evening in Alaska — at the Tokyo Olympics. 

“I was so excited. I was crying and so happy,” said Spear Tuesday from Port Lions. “I was just thinking, I’ve known her for the past five years and have watched her grow as a swimmer.”

Kodiak swimmers are extremely familiar with Jacoby, the 17-year-old swimming sensation that shocked the world by upsetting teammate Lilly King and Olympic record-holder Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa to claim US swimming’s first gold at the games. Jacoby, third at the midway point, surged down the stretch to finish in a personal-best time of 1 minute, 4.95 seconds.

Seward High swims in Region III with Kodiak. Spear, also a breaststroker, raced Jacoby more times than she could remember during her four-year prep career. She knew just how lethal Jacoby’s finishing kick was. Now the world knows. 

“She is an amazing person. We always talked before and between our races,” Spear said. “I always joked that she would beat me by half a pool length, and she always would.”

In 2018 and 2019, Spear raced against Jacoby in the 100-yard breaststroke at the state championship meet in Anchorage. Jacoby won both years, with Spear placing third in 2018 and seventh in 2019. 

At the 2018 meet, Jacoby broke Kodiak’s Laura Griffing’s eight-year state record (1:04.5) with a time of 1:03.68. A year later, Jacoby lowered that mark to 1:00.61. 

“I remember how bummed I was when she broke Laura Griffing’s Alaska state record in the 100-yard breaststroke,” former Kodiak swimmer Nathan James texted Monday evening. “But then I realized how deserving she is.”

As Jacoby secured the first Olympic swimming medal — of any color — for Alaska, her fans in Kodiak went wild. 

“The neighborhood heard us, if not the town,” Kodiak swimming coach Maggie Rocheleau said. “It was pretty wild at our house.”

In June, Rocheleau, her two kids — Ian and Amaya — and Nick Carver were in Omaha, Nebraska, watching Jacoby in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Jacoby finished second at the trials — behind defending Olympic champion King — to clinch a spot on Team USA.

With her time with the Kodiak High and Kodiak Kingfishers, Rocheleau has gotten to see a lot of Jacoby through the years. Before Monday’s race, she told her husband that Jacoby could win if she were within a half-second of the leaders at the turn. She was.

“The wonderful thing about Lydia, and I think you see this in her reaction, is that she is genuine, humble and good to the core,” Rocheleau said.  

Now the coach is hoping Jacoby’s victory brings more swimmers to the pool when the high school season starts on Aug. 4. Rocheleau posted a recruiting message on Facebook before the medal ceremony. 

“Come out for swim and dive, and you might even get to compete against an Olympic gold medalist,” Rocheleau said. “She has one year left and is in our region. I’m going to use that. No shame there.” 

Spear ended Tuesday’s conversation recalling a race at the Homer Invitational a few years back. 

“I beat her in the 200 freestyle by 10 seconds,” Spear said. “I could say that I beat an Olympic gold medalist.”      

 

 

 

 

 

 

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