Jack Aikins had a timeline in mind, and this was not on it. The West Forsyth rising junior was swimming in the 2019 Bulldog Grand Slam meet on June 21 with Swim Atlanta, his club team, but the conditions to hit his best times weren't there. He hadn’t started to taper his training, and he was wearing an old suit.
But he had the exact numbers in mind: The time standards to swim in the 2020 Olympic Trials had been the lock screen on Aikins’ phone for months. When took his last flip turn in his 200-meter backstroke race, Aikins caught a glimpse of the clock and saw that he was on pace to hit the time he needed.
“I started feeling really good about it, and that gave me the burst of energy I needed to get to the wall,” Aikins said.
And when he saw the time, he knew that he’d done it: Aikins’ 200 back time of 2:02.88 was a personal best by more than a second, and it snuck just under the standard of 2:02.99, giving Aikins a spot at the Trials next June in Omaha.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Aikins said. “It’s just been my goal for so long. It just didn’t seem like (it) was really happening.”
Forsyth County has become a powerhouse in the state prep swimming ranks in recent years, but for a swimmer to qualify for the Trials during high school is still a very rare occurrence. The last county swimmer to do it and compete in Omaha was Lambert’s Megan Bestor, who finished 131st overall in the 100 butterfly in 2012, the summer after her sophomore year. Aikins said that his sister, Caroline, hit the cut for the 200 backstroke for the 2016 Trials, which happened while she was still at Lambert, but didn’t compete in them.
The 200 back also isn’t an event that Aikins has excelled in at West, as it isn’t offered in high school swimming. He had an excellent showing at the Class 7A state meet, winning the 50-yard freestyle and swimming on the third-place 200 freestyle relay team, but didn’t swim in any backstroke events.
That stroke is Aikins’ niche, though, with his combination of flat-out speed and endurance helping him excel in the longer distance.
“It’s just always been my favorite,” Aikins said.
Aikins hopes that he’ll have more races to swim in Omaha next year: He’s also aiming to qualify in the 100 back and 50 free. And while he’s realistic in assessing himself as a longshot in making the Olympic team for 2020, Aikins also has his eyes set on 2024, when he’ll be in college.
Either way, he’s already ahead of schedule.
“I had hoped it would happen at some point,” Aikins said. “I just was surprised that it happened this early.”