As the United States Olympic Swimming Trials get closer, Phoebe Bacon’s star only continues to grow.
The Chevy Chase native and Stone Ridge School for the Sacred Heart senior has been rising on national levels over the past two years but made perhaps her biggest statement yet at last month’s Toyota U.S. Open in Atlanta.
On day two of the meet, Bacon won the 100-meter backstroke in 58.63 seconds, beating world record holder Regan Smith in the process. The 17-year-old Smith set the world record with a time of 57.57 leading off the U.S.’s 4×100 medley relay at this summer’s FINA World Championships.
“My goal was to be under a minute to set me up well for the night,” Bacon said. “That morning swim, I was ecstatic because it was one of the best I had and knew I could go faster. It was exciting.”
Bacon qualified second for the final in a time of 59.55, putting herself next to Smith for that night’s final. She trailed Smith by five one-hundredths of a second after the first 50 meters, slowly working her back over the second half of the race. Bacon lost some ground at the turn but caught up and passed over the final 15 meters to beat the world record holder.
“It’s a really big confidence booster,” Bacon said. “I want to continue to beat her, and she wants to continue to beat me. It’s a healthy rivalry we have, and we’re both excited to race again at some point.”
Bacon’s breakthrough swim was part of some unfinished business she had from this summer. She won gold in the 100-meter backstroke at the Pan American Game, and led off the women’s 4×100 medley relay in a then-personal best and meet record 59.02. Tim Kelly, Bacon’s coach at the Nation’s Capital Swim Club American University site, said she “spun her wheels” in the race, which means her tempo was too fast to be efficient.
But Kelly said Bacon continued to do what she does best, which is putting in the work. After getting about a week of rest for the meet, she went under 59 seconds in the event for the first time. However, Kelly said Bacon doesn’t get caught up in times, instead of focusing on the process.
“She’s getting better at focusing what she has to focus on,” Kelly said. “You see it not just in the big performances but just consistency to see how fast she swims…The sport is measured by (time), but she’s really focused on what the process is and has a pretty good eye on it.”
As the calendar turns to 2020, Bacon has the second-fastest time in the country in the 100-meter backstroke over the qualification for the Olympic Trials, which began on November 28, 2018. She trails only Smith, though she’ll have stiff competition. Before Smith set the world record this summer, American Kathleen Baker set the world record at U.S. Nationals in 2018. 25-year-old Olivia Smoliga, who made the Rio Olympic team in the 100-meter backstroke along with Baker, has been a mainstay on the U.S. National Team since. All four of their best times are faster than what it took to make the 2016 Olympic team.
Bacon’s chances aren’t as good in the 200-meter backstroke, where her time of 2:08.82 from the U.S. Open ranks eighth since the start of the qualification period. Even with a shot to make the Olympic team, Kelly is not only focused on making sure Bacon has success there. He thinks she’s just scratching the surface of her potential, and she’ll continue to improve when she heads to the University of Wisconsin in the fall.
“There’s huge ability and upside that keeps getting faster,” Kelly said. “I think that’s the more exciting thing about the success she has. The focus is this year, but there’s a lot more years of faster swimming ahead.”