Lydia Jacoby returns to swimming’s global stage without those famous goggles

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Lydia Jacoby, the Alaskan teen who stormed to Tokyo Olympic gold, returns to major international swimming this week. But she won’t be wearing her famous goggles.

Jacoby, 17, competes at a major meet — the world short course championships in Abu Dhabi (TV schedule here) — for the first time without the pink-rounded Speedo goggles given to her by 2012 Olympian Jessica Hardy Meichtry after a 2017 swim clinic.

“Obviously, I love them,” said Jacoby, who expressed that racing four years in the same goggles is a long time. “I guess it’s bittersweet, but at the same time, I’m kind of ready to move on to a new pair.”

Jacoby isn’t keeping the old goggles back home in Alaska, nor bringing them with her to the University of Texas next year. Instead, they’ll find a new home at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs on loan.

“They wanted them as a token of perseverance,” Jacoby said while in Miami last week for the Golden Goggle Awards, where she won Breakout Performer and Female Race of the Year.

Jacoby visited South Florida for the first time. Average temperatures in her native Seward, Alaska, in December are in the 20s. It was in the 80s on a crowded South Beach on the day of Golden Goggles, more than 5,000 miles from home.

Jacoby, in the first of her award speeches, singled out Meichtry. She told a story from April, when she lowered her personal best in the 100m breaststroke by 1.17 seconds and moved up to No. 2 in the nation at a meet in Mission Viejo, California, near Meichtry’s home. Jacoby, her parents and Meichtry had lunch at the meet.

“[Meichtry] told me that she thought I could take gold in Tokyo,” Jacoby told a Who’s Who of American swimming in a five-star hotel ballroom. “I was like, pfft, no. That’s crazy.”

Meichtry was at one of the tables, tearing up. Jacoby had invited Meichtry to be her Golden Goggles guest.

Meichtry, who has 2- and 3-year-old kids, gave another gift to Jacoby last week: an Olympic rings necklace. Then she shared another story linking the two breaststroke champions, from June’s Olympic Trials.

“[Jacoby] texted me the morning of her 100m breast prelim in Omaha and was like, hey, this might be the first Olympic Trials that you’re not swimming in since 2004, but your goggles are still swimming, you know? And she’s like, I hope I make you proud,” said Meichtry, whose last competition was the 2016 Olympic Trials. “And I was crying hysterically when she wrote that. Oh my gosh, she blew my mind.”

Jacoby finished second to 2016 gold medalist Lilly King in the 100m breast at trials, becoming the first Alaskan to make an Olympic swim team. The next month in Tokyo, Jacoby, again in Meichtry’s goggles, surged past King and South African favorite Tatjana Schoenmaker in the final 50 meters for gold.

Her performance stirred a frenzy in the Dale R. Lindsey Alaska Railroad terminal in Seward.

Four days later, she was back in the pool for the first Olympic mixed-gender swimming relay.

Disaster struck when Jacoby dove into the water. Her goggles slipped down her nose. The strap lodged in her mouth. The eye coverings rested on her cheeks, inside out.

Jacoby still split 1:05.09, just .06 off her time in the women’s medley relay the next night (and faster than any other breaststroker split in the women’s relay).

“It was definitely kind of embarrassing, and also just awful,” Jacoby said last week. “But I feel like I pulled through as best as I could.”

Meichtry, watching the broadcast at home, panicked.

“I was probably more worried than [Jacoby] was,” Meichtry said. “She handled it like a pro. … But I felt so guilty, texting her mom and her immediately, just saying sorry, you don’t have to wear the goggles. I’m so sorry for being the responsible factor in that moment. She’s like, no way, that wasn’t your fault.”

Jacoby said she will still be wearing pink goggles at this week’s short course worlds. But they are ones from her new sponsor Arena. Jacoby said that Meichtry has also helped her navigate the name, image and likeness world that, at the start of this year, she would not have fathomed being a part of.

“I can’t wrap my head around how amazing she’s done and the continued relationship and gratitude that we’ve shared together,” Meichtry said. “I just don’t have words for how much she means to me and how special a person she is.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect name for a museum. It is the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum, not the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee Museum.

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