Lydia Jacoby is the toast of USA swimming after her Olympic gold
Lydia Jacoby is the toast of USA swimming after her Olympic gold Image Credit: AFP

It has been quite a year for American swimming star Lydia Jacoby — from here home town in Alaska to Abu Dhabi — via the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

At just 17 years old, Jacoby has lit up the swimming world after joining Team USA earlier this year. She booked her ticket to Japan and put in a stunning performance to come away with Olympic gold in the 100m breaststroke and also picked up a silver in the 4x100m medley.

“It has been a crazy time,” the Anchorage-born teenager told Gulf News in an exclusive chat from Yas Island’s Etihad Arena, which has been transformed into a state-of-the-are swimming and diving venue for the Fina World Swimming Championships, which begin on Thursday.

“Two weeks after I won gold at the Games in Tokyo I was back in high school in my small town. I am still adjusting but the past 12 months have been amazing.”

Alaska — the US’ northernmost state — has very hostile winters and Jacoby was delighted to be basking in the Abu Dhabi sun as she takes in the sites for the first time, rather than be wrapped up against the elements at home.

“It was snowing pretty hard when I left and there was a bout a foot of snow,” she said. “It is such a contrast here. The weather is perfect. It is great to be out and about to see such an amazing city. Not only is it a stunning place to visit with world-class facilities across the board, it also embraces its deep history to complete the picture.”

The swimming pool at Etihad Arena
The swimming pool at Etihad Arena Image Credit: Supplied

The Etihad Arena has undergone a massive transformation to host the championships and a highly trained workforce of 25 professionals from design specialists Myrtha Pools were flown in from Italy to install the two pools in just 14 days, transforming the MENA region’s largest state-of-the-art indoor entertainment establishment into a purpose-built swimming venue.

“We have trained in the pool of the past couple of days,” said Jacoby. “I always love coming to these purpose-built venues as they have that ‘new pool’ smell, just like a car,” she added with a laugh.

Lydia Jacoby won gold in Tokyo
Lydia Jacoby won gold in Tokyo Image Credit: Reuters

Despite her success in Tokyo, Jacoby still has her feet on the ground — when not in the pool, obviously. “It was a bit surreal getting back to school in Alaska after Japan,” she said. “Thankfully, I grew up with all the guys in my school. It is a small town, so everyone knows me as me, not this sports star. After all the travelling it was good to get back to my reality for a while.”

Looking ahead, Jacoby is targeting more glory in the pool to prove she was not just a splash in the pan in Tokyo. “Gold here would be huge,” she said. “The Olympics was only my first international meeting and it would be great to prove I’m worth it with another win. I will continue to just focus on the breaststroke for now as my body is still changing, but maybe in the future I would like to add another stroke — even if it is just for training to help me be more rounded.”

The Abu Dhabi World Swimming Championships effectively close the 2021 season and Jacoby already has an eye on the Paris Olympics in 2023.

“It will be a fantastic way to finish the season here. I was taken out to see the Formula one on Sunday, so I already see the massive draw of global sport to the UAE. We are still unsure who will be on the us team for Paris 2023, but hopefully the shorter gap will help the current crop. The extra year’s delay certainly helped me develop for Tokyo, and now we have a quicker turnaround but it still gives us time to mature.”