Swimming

Two South Sound high school swimmers will compete in Olympic Trials this weekend

Two South Sound high school swimmers will compete in Olympic Trials this weekend

Billy Oates was nine years old when he set a goal for himself to qualify for the Olympic Trials in swimming. During a club swim meet in May in Des Moines, Iowa, he swam 23.13 seconds in the 50-meter freestyle, just under the 23.19 qualifying time. When he looked up at the clock and saw his time, he realized he had done it.

“I was really excited,” Oates said. “It had been a goal of mine for a really, really long time.”

Oates, a junior at Gig Harbor High School and an Arizona swimming commit, is one of two high school swimmers from the South Sound who qualified for the Olympic Trials, which will take place June 4 to 7 in Omaha, Nebraska. Patrick Keough, a junior swimmer at Curtis High School, also qualified in the 100-meter butterfly. Both Oates and Keough swim for the King Aquatic Club, which practices in Federal Way.

In total, close to 1,500 swimmers nationally qualified for the Olympic Trials ahead of the games in Tokyo, which are now slated to begin in July, after being postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Once again, the Tokyo Games appear in jeopardy, amid growing calls from Japan’s residents to cancel them.

For Oates and Keough, who have both won multiple state swimming titles in Washington, the status of the Olympics is likely a moot point. They’re both several seconds off the time standards they’d need to hit to earn one of the 56 coveted spots on the U.S. Olympic Team. For the teenagers, the Trials are more a chance to dip their toes in the water against the rest of the country’s elite competition.

I look at it as, ‘Why are we here?’” Keough said. “Are we just here to compete? This is a process, a big part of your life. If you’re thinking, ‘I have to push faster, go a certain time,’ that’s really limiting. There’s always going to be a guy who’s faster. I could be worried about that, I could be concerned about that, but I’d rather take some of that concern and worry and turn it into inspiration and appreciate the station that I’m in now.

“I have another four years before I’ll be back. I want to have fun with it. I’m meeting and competing against guys from all over the country. So I just want to take this awesome circumstance and really have fun with it.

Gig Harbor High School swim coach Mike Kelly said it’s important to keep results in perspective at national meets.

“I’d tell (Oates) to gain the experience of such a high-level meet,” Kelly said. “That’ll come back to help him for future nationals. Go in with an open mind, don’t be disappointed if you get 64th. Just know that you’re one of the elite athletes in the country. That’s a testimony to the hard work it takes to achieve those levels.

The Trials are being split into two waves. Those who just made the cut for qualifying times are in the first wave, with the best of the best in the swimming world featured in the second wave. The top two swimmers in each event from the first wave will qualify for Wave Two, which will take place the following weekend. Both Keough and Oates would have to swim lifetime bests to have a shot.

“I think it’d be a fantastic drop,” Oates said. “The biggest thing right now is where I’m at mentally before my race. We put in all the time and training for me to (post) better times. I’ve put on more weight, grown a little bit. I definitely think it’s doable. I just have to be in the right state of mind before my race.”

Keough swims on Sunday, while Oates swims on Monday. Both swimmers are hoping to soak in the experience as much as possible.

“It’s going to be really nice to connect with all these people I’ve been swimming with at national meets,” Keough said. “I feel lucky to have this wild experience; I’m just really privileged to go. What is the payoff like? What it’s like to race against some of the top swimmers in the world?

“I just want to have fun with it. You have all these guys that are all within a fraction of a second of each other. It’s going to be a packed meet.

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