Lydia Jacoby misses Paris after surprising Olympic gold in Tokyo: “It’s not quite clear to me yet”

INDIANAPOLIS — Lydia Jacoby looked up, stunned. Only 27 hundredths of a second separated her from Emma Weber's runner-up in the ladies's 100-meter breaststroke final, but two continents could have separated them.

Experienced swimmers often describe the U.S. Olympic qualifying competitions because the hardest swimming competition on the planet—tougher than the Olympics themselves. In some events, the third-fastest American could be the third-best swimmer on the planet. But only the highest two make Team USA.

With this razor-thin lead, there’s so much at stake; it’s a matter of victory or defeat, of all or nothing.

And Jacoby ended up empty-handed, just three years after surprising herself and the world by winning the gold medal in Tokyo in the identical event. On Tuesday morning, she announced that she had withdrawn from the 200-meter breaststroke, meaning her competition was over. The 20-year-old is not going to be heading to Paris.

“I'm feeling weirdly good,” Jacoby said Tuesday. “I don't think I've fully gotten it yet. I definitely cried a little last night, but I'm feeling pretty good today. I'm sure I'll have a lot of time to process my feelings over the next few weeks, and I'll … try to plan some fun things to look forward to this summer.”

Two-time gold medalist Lilly King, who won gold in Rio de Janeiro, took first place on Monday night with a time of 1:05.43. Weber's second place was a shock, one in every of the true surprises of the competition to date. After King congratulated Weber, she swam over to Jacoby for a hug.

“It breaks my heart for her,” King said. “But then again, what a performance by Emma Weber – and that's just how this competition works. It can make or break your career in a minute. It's the toughest competition in the world. In my opinion, it's much tougher than the Olympics.”

“I hope she gets over it and I keep my fingers crossed for her.”

In recent months, Jacoby has spoken in regards to the severe depression she experienced after winning the gold medal in Tokyo. She felt like everyone wanted a chunk of her and he or she couldn't say no. She couldn't tell which individuals round her were genuinely concerned about her well-being and which just desired to be related to a gold medalist. There were days and weeks when she didn't need to get off the bed at home in Alaska.

“I felt like my identity was limited to the sport,” Jacoby said Tuesday. “The most important thing for me lately is (remembering) that being a swimmer is something I do. It's not something I am. I have so many interests and passions. I have great friends and great family outside of the sport. Remembering those things is a big thing for me.”

“A lot of people outside of the sport see this and think that's it. It's important for people to realise, yes, this is something I do and I'm very committed to it. Of course I put a lot of emotion into it and it's pretty devastating. But in the end, it's not going to change my life.”

Lydia Jacoby and Lilly King

Lydia Jacoby and Lilly King embrace after the 100-meter breaststroke final on the U.S. Olympic Qualifiers. Jacoby, the gold medalist in Tokyo, didn’t qualify for Paris. (Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

Jacoby said she seriously considered quitting swimming after Tokyo and even considered competing at times last yr. She is glad she stuck with the game and swam here despite the disappointing result.

Jacoby said she was unhappy along with her performance here at Lucas Oil Stadium. Her time of 1:06.37 was greater than a full second slower than her Olympic qualifying time within the 2021 heats. She had trained well and is upset that her performance on Monday didn’t match what she put into the competition. Jacoby said she focused all her training on the 100-meter breaststroke and had planned to cancel the 200 meters anyway.

“I don't think my swimming performance was a good representation of my abilities, and that's the most frustrating part for me,” Jacoby said.

She said she desires to take a break from swimming “to better shape my life outside of swimming and then approach the sport in a healthy way.” She doesn't think she's completely done with the game, nor does she think the game is finished along with her.

But that's long-term. For now, Jacoby isn't sure she'll watch the event on TV next month. She's unsure she will be able to handle sitting at home on the incorrect continent while her friends and former teammates wear red, white and blue.

“I feel like I haven't really processed the fact that I'm not going to swim there,” Jacoby said. “I'm honestly not sure if I want to watch my race. I haven't really thought about it yet. But the people who made the team – I've been crying all last week, tears of joy for all my friends who made the team… so I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone do great things in Paris.”

“It will definitely be hard not being there, but I wish them all the very best.”

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