Torri Huske used the extra Olympic year to become one of the U.S.’ fastest swimmers

Torri Huske
Getty Images

Torri Huske, an 18-year-old from Arlington, Virginia, is one of the faces of a teenage movement in the pool.

A school of young talent could break through at the Olympic Trials next month, many benefiting from Tokyo’s one-year postponement and an extra 364 days to gain on older collegians and professionals.

At the end of 2019, Huske, then a high school junior, ranked fourth in the nation in the 100m butterfly, eighth in the 200m individual medley and outside the top 10 in her other events across all ages.

This year, Huske is fastest in the 50m freestyle and 100m free (though Simone Manuel had faster times in 2019), second in the 100m fly, fourth in the 200m free and 200m IM and fifth in the 200m fly. The top two finishers per individual race at Trials make the team, plus likely four more each in the 100m and 200m frees for relays.

“I was afraid that she would be feeling fatigued, mentally and physically,” from the extra year of training, said Huske’s mom, Ying. “It turned out it’s better for her.”

Huske’s swim story begins with her mom, a native of Guangzhou, China, who moved to the U.S. in 1991. Ying was an architect in her birth nation — and designed 30-story buildings, husband Jim boasts.

But she wanted to pursue a different career and could not.

“The government paid for our tuition, and they basically owned us,” Ying said. “I came [to the U.S.] for a better life, better opportunities and a better life for my future family.”

She followed friends and family who immigrated, enrolling in graduate school. First at Ohio State, then Virginia Tech, studying urban planning and then transportation engineering. She later taught herself computer engineering and information technology.

“She can solve problems like nobody’s business,” said Jim, whom she married in 2000. “Torri’s mind is similar to her mom’s.”

Ying swam in China and even more in the States, though never competitively. Jim swears she was in the pool on Dec. 6, 2002. The next day, Victoria — “Torri” — was born.

The Huskes put their only child in classes for taekwondo, art, ice skating, tap dancing and ballet. And swimming, though it didn’t look like the sport for a girl who was among the smallest in her grade.

“Part of the reason I didn’t like it was just because I was always cold,” Huske said. “I used to wear a wetsuit to practice because I was always shivering.”

Ying kept swimming, and so did Torri after initially balking at classes. An instructor encouraged mother and daughter to race each other.

“Torri was faster than me when she was 8 or 9 years old,” said Ying, who has visited China with her family three times and documents Huske’s swimming on a YouTube channel with more than 300 videos. “I was able to win against her in the breaststroke, but pretty soon she just beat me in everything.”

A decade ago, coach Evan Stiles noticed a group of about 30 swimmers in the 7- and 8-year age group at Arlington Aquatic Club. Huske stood out, because she was the one in a wetsuit. Stiles can’t recall anybody else wearing one in practices in his 28 years at AAC.

“She was so small and tiny that the water was so cold that she had to wear this wetsuit kind of thing just so she wouldn’t freeze to death while she was swimming,” he said.

Huske shed the wetsuit. Her potential began showing. Though, as Stiles put it, she was still “teeny-tiny.”

Huske joined Stiles’ group in her early teens while she steadily grew. He has been her club coach ever since.

“It’s not like she’s been this prodigy since day one,” Stiles said. “She had to work hard as a younger kid to get caught up to where all the bigger kids her age were.”

Huske also competed all four years for Yorktown High School, where 1996 and 2000 Olympic 400m IM champion Tom Dolan also swam and studied.

Torin Ortmayer took the Yorktown head coaching job in October 2017, one month before the start of Huske’s freshman season.

“One of the families reached out to me and said, hey, we’ve got a special swimmer coming,” Ortmayer said.

Later that winter, Ortmayer remembered Huske looking nervous before facing Virginia stars Cassidy Bayer, a senior, and Lexi Cuomo, a junior, in the 100 butterfly at the state championships. Both swam at the Olympic Trials two years earlier, with Bayer placing third in the 200m fly and just missing the Olympic team at age 16.

“I said, Torri, everybody’s Cassidy Bayer at this point,” Ortmayer remembered. “You’ve got to be able to measure up with these kids now if that’s where you want to be. She just kind of looked at me and was like, OK, and walked away and then went on to beat both of them.”

Ortmayer said he never saw Huske lose an individual event competing for the Patriots, including winning all eight of her state championships finals and leading the program to a team title this past season.

In summer 2019, Huske broke a 38-year-old national age group record in the 100m butterfly held by Olympic gold medalist Mary T. Meagher. After winning five golds at the world junior championships (three in relays), she and Ortmayer, who is also her strength coach, incorporated a strength training program.

They believed it would help her against older professional swimmers, who had years of conditioning programs at major universities, at the following year’s Olympic Trials.

In December 2019, Huske won the 100m butterfly at the U.S. Open on the eve of her 17th birthday. The field included Kelsi Dahlia, the top American in the event since 2015.

“Everything was about the 100m butterfly,” Ortmayer said. “It was all in on the 100m fly, and we’ll try our best with the other events that she was qualified for [at Trials].”

Everything changed in March 2020. Pools closed. The Olympics were postponed one year.

Huske, a straight-A student who will be a Stanford Cardinal, got bored as her classes went virtual. Her father called around, begging for a place to swim. She was stuck at home with her two cats, Cupcake and Truffles, and tried to relearn how to crochet.

So she took conditioning to another level, hopping on a stationary bike and a rowing machine in the basement for 45 minutes each in the morning. Then repeating it in the afternoon. She trained on a power tower, ran hills and hiked with friends and exhausted herself with battle ropes.

After two months out of the pool, the Huskes found a homeowner in Gainesville, a 45-minute drive from Arlington, with a 42-foot backyard pool. For a month and a half, Huske and her father commuted several mornings per week. Torri gave thanks by baking, bringing over lemon bars and brownies. (Stiles said Huske also draws her own thank-you cards and gives them to coaches.)

Huske alternated between training with a bungee cord, anchored by her dad sitting on deck, and trying to swim laps in a pool one-eighth the size of what they have at the Olympics. She made it three strokes before reaching the opposite wall, dizzying herself.

“The waves were knocking her back and forth,” said Wayne Lloyd, who with wife Mary owns the house. “I said, I know of a longer pool.”

Lloyd flew a drone to find another pool in the neighborhood that was uncovered. This one was 50 feet. The homeowner obliged. Huske spent a month there before AAC reopened last summer.

“She could take four, five, six strokes, and that was really, really nice,” her dad said. “People have been so giving and wonderful to Torri to help her make it.”

The modified exercise worked. In April, Huske lowered her personal bests in the 50m free, 100m free and 100m fly all by more than a half-second.

She is now back in a more normal training environment and focused on the Olympic Trials, though she’s had trouble finding larger, Olympic-size pools.

Huske hasn’t been in a classroom in 14 months, but last fall and winter completed Advanced Placement college-level classes online in environmental science, statistics, literature, Spanish and art (where her concentration was on water, submitting photos of her work virtually for grading).

Fifteen months ago, Huske could not have imagined missing her June 2021 high school graduation for an Olympic Trials. Nor being a contender to make the Olympic team in several races.

“We thought there was an outside chance in one event,” to make the Olympic team had the Games been held in 2020, Jim Huske said. “Everything’s come together.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S. women’s rugby team qualifies for 2024 Paris Olympics as medal contender

Cheta Emba

The U.S. women’s rugby team qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics by clinching a top-four finish in this season’s World Series.

Since rugby was re-added to the Olympics in 2016, the U.S. men’s and women’s teams finished fifth, sixth, sixth and ninth at the Games.

The U.S. women are having their best season since 2018-19, finishing second or third in all five World Series stops so far and ranking behind only New Zealand and Australia, the winners of the first two Olympic women’s rugby sevens tournaments.

The U.S. also finished fourth at last September’s World Cup.

Three months after the Tokyo Games, Emilie Bydwell was announced as the new U.S. head coach, succeeding Olympic coach Chris Brown.

Soon after, Tokyo Olympic co-captain Abby Gustaitis was cut from the team.

Jaz Gray, who led the team in scoring last season and at the World Cup, missed the last three World Series stops after an injury.

The U.S. men are ranked ninth in this season’s World Series and will likely need to win either a North American Olympic qualifier this summer or a last-chance global qualifier in June 2024 to make it to Paris.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Oscar Pistorius denied parole, hasn’t served enough time

Oscar Pistorius
File photo

Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius was denied parole Friday and will have to stay in prison for at least another year and four months after it was decided that he had not served the “minimum detention period” required to be released following his murder conviction for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp 10 years ago.

The parole board ruled that Pistorius would only be able to apply again in August 2024, South Africa’s Department of Corrections said in a short, two-paragraph statement. It was released soon after a parole hearing at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre prison where Pistorius is being held.

The board cited a new clarification on Pistorius’ sentence that was issued by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal just three days before the hearing, according to the statement. Still, legal experts criticized authorities’ decision to go ahead with the hearing when Pistorius was not eligible.

Reeva Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, are “relieved” with the decision to keep Pistorius in prison but are not celebrating it, their lawyer told The Associated Press.

“They can’t celebrate because there are no winners in this situation. They lost a daughter and South Africa lost a hero,” lawyer Tania Koen said, referring to the dramatic fall from grace of Pistorius, once a world-famous and highly-admired athlete.

The decision and reasoning to deny parole was a surprise but there has been legal wrangling over when Pistorius should be eligible for parole because of the series of appeals in his case. He was initially convicted of culpable homicide, a charge comparable to manslaughter, in 2014 but the case went through a number of appeals before Pistorius was finally sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison for murder in 2017.

Serious offenders must serve at least half their sentence to be eligible for parole in South Africa. Pistorius’ lawyers had previously gone to court to argue that he was eligible because he had served the required portion if they also counted periods served in jail from late 2014 following his culpable homicide conviction.

The lawyer handling Pistorius’ parole application did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

June Steenkamp attended Pistorius’ hearing inside the prison complex to oppose his parole. The parents have said they still do not believe Pistorius’ account of their daughter’s killing and wanted him to stay in jail.

Pistorius, who is now 36, has always claimed he killed Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law student, in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 after mistaking her for a dangerous intruder in his home. He shot four times with his licensed 9 mm pistol through a closed toilet cubicle door in his bathroom, where Steenkamp was, hitting her multiple times. Pistorius claimed he didn’t realize his girlfriend had got out of bed and gone to the bathroom.

The Steenkamps say they still think he is lying and killed her intentionally after a late-night argument.

Lawyer Koen had struck a more critical tone when addressing reporters outside the prison before the hearing, saying the Steenkamps believed Pistorius could not be considered to be rehabilitated “unless he comes clean” over the killing.

“He’s the killer of their daughter. For them, it’s a life sentence,” Koen said before the hearing.

June Steenkamp had sat grim-faced in the back seat of a car nearby while Koen spoke to reporters outside the prison gates ahead of the hearing. June Steenkamp and Koen were then driven into the prison in a Department of Corrections vehicle. June Steenkamp made her submission to the parole board in a separate room to Pistorius and did not come face-to-face with her daughter’s killer, Koen said.

Barry Steenkamp did not travel for the hearing because of poor health but a family friend read out a statement to the parole board on his behalf, the parents’ lawyer said.

Pistorius was once hailed as an inspirational figure for overcoming the adversity of his disability, before his murder trial and sensational downfall captivated the world.

Pistorius’s lower legs were amputated when he was a baby because of a congenital condition and he walks with prosthetics. He went on to become a double-amputee runner and multiple Paralympic champion who made history by competing against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, running on specially designed carbon-fiber blades.

Pistorius’ conviction eventually led to him being sent to the Kgosi Mampuru II maximum security prison, one of South Africa’s most notorious. He was moved to the Atteridgeville prison in 2016 because that facility is better suited to disabled prisoners.

There have only been glimpses of his life in prison, with reports claiming he had at one point grown a beard, gained weight and taken up smoking and was unrecognizable from the elite athlete he once was.

He has spent much of his time working in an area of the prison grounds where vegetables are grown, sometimes driving a tractor, and has reportedly been running bible classes for other inmates.

Pistorius’ father, Henke Pistorius, told the Pretoria News newspaper before the hearing that his family hoped he would be home soon.

“Deep down, we believe he will be home soon,” Henke Pistorius said, “but until the parole board has spoken the word, I don’t want to get my hopes up.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!