Long Beach has a storied history of aquatic Olympians, due mostly to Wilson’s unparalleled history in the pool. But while Max Irving is holding it down for Long Beach (and the Bruins) in the Tokyo Olympics on the men’s national water polo team, there isn’t a representative for the city swimming between the lane lines in this year’s Summer Games. Well, there sort of is.
Lydia Jacoby has been one of the stars of the Games, bursting onto the scene as a 17 year-old phenom and winning a gold medal in the 100 meter breaststroke, as well as nabbing a silver as part of Team USA’s 4×100 medley relay. Jacoby captured the attention of the country not just because of her win, but because of her remarkable story. Jacoby is from Alaska, a state with a total of one Olympic-length swimming pool–she’s also about to enter her senior year of high school, and NBC’s video of her high school classmates reacting uproariously to her gold medal swim has been a big highlight as well.
Jacoby was carrying a piece of Long Beach with her when she made history: pink goggles gifted to her by Wilson alum and two-time Olympic medalist Jessica Hardy.
“She deserves so much credit for what she did, especially training without long course access,” said Hardy. “She’s driving two hours every day to have practice, and it’s like if she was a basketball player she’s driving two hours to play pickup on a halfcourt, it’s insane.”
Hardy and Jacoby’s paths crossed in 2016. After retiring from swimming, Hardy continued to work with the USA Swimming Foundation to hold water safety awareness clinics because of a near-drowning incident in her childhood (Hardy hosted one of these events at the Belmont Plaza in Long Beach). Jacoby’s mother organized a fundraiser for the USASF and won a prize, in the form of Hardy flying to Alaska to host a clinic.
“Lydia and her mom picked me up at the airport because it was a two-hour drive to Seward, their hometown,” said Hardy. “There were only a couple kids in the water, Lydia was the breaststroker on the team and I didn’t think too much of it at the time. I’ve met thousands of kids and I’ve given away a lot of goggles–it’s part of the culture, it’s a supportive sport.”
Hardy said her overwhelming impression of the Jacoby family was how nice they were. They ended up staying up until 2 a.m. talking because it was Summer so the sun wasn’t setting, and she enjoyed a glacier tour and whale-watching trip.
“She was training in a pool smaller than Wilson’s pool and it was closed half the year at the time,” said Hardy. “It’s very far from the environment that I thought developed Olympic breaststrokers–that’s a real testament to her.”
The Jacobys kept in touch with Hardy, and when Hardy saw a picture of Lydia on a swimming website a few years later, she noticed that she was wearing the pink goggles that Hardy had gifted her.
“I was like, ‘What the heck, she’s still wearing them that’s so great,’” said Hardy. “I know she’s saved them for special moments, and she really had one this year.”
Hardy was traveling on the day of Jacoby’s gold medal swim but made sure to hurry into her hotel so she could sit and watch the race, as well as the reaction from Jacoby’s teammates.
“She deserves it all,” said Hardy. “She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in this sport, I’m not surprised to see the support from everyone. She comes from a small place but a goodhearted place. Everyone there knows who she is and they’re invested in each other’s lives. I couldn’t be happier for her.”