At a attempting trials, Leah Hayes endured to make swimming worlds at age 16 – NBC Sports

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BUDAPEST — When 16-year-old swimmer Leah Hayes eventually sat down for dinner after the ultimate day of April’s world championships trials, she rested her head on the desk. Her father requested if she was OK.

Hayes seemed up, mentioned she was nice and added, “It’s just a lot.”

Nancy Hooper, Hayes’ coach within the western suburbs of Chicago, was additionally there for the meal. She remembered that second in North Carolina intimately.

“There weren’t tears, but you could tell she was really emotional,” Hooper mentioned. “And we mentioned, ‘It is a lot, Leah. But it is time for you to take a deep breath, sit here and totally enjoy this.’”

Hours earlier, Hayes qualified for the U.S. team by finishing second in the 200m individual medley in her fourth and final event of the five-day meet.

She was the 41st and final swimmer to make the roster for the world championships, which began here Saturday at the Duna Arena.

Her presence on the team, which includes Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel, surprised Hayes, who came to trials hoping to qualify for the Junior Pan Pacific Championships.

“It’s simply such an amazing feeling of pleasure,” Hayes mentioned in a poolside TV interview at trials on April 30.

She was the primary U.S. swimmer to race in Budapest and was up for the second, blasting a personal-best time to advance to Saturday night time’s 200m particular person medley semifinals because the second seed.


Hayes ranks third on the earth this 12 months within the 200m IM, trailing Olympic silver medalist Alex Walsh of the U.S. and Australian Kaylee McKeown, who swept the backstroke golds in Tokyo.

“I know that she couldn’t be more ready,” Hooper mentioned earlier than the meet. “She needs to take that passion that she has, that she always races with, get on the blocks and let it happen.”

Hayes has been on the ascent since her first aggressive strokes round age 7, which was additionally in regards to the time she first began shedding her hair. Hayes, who races with no swim cap, has alopecia universalis, an autoimmune illness the place the physique assaults the entire hair follicles because the enemy.

By age 9, Hayes swept each occasion at a regional swim meet. Just after turning 13, she was profiled by Sports Illustrated as its SportsChild of the Year.

She now holds six nationwide age group data throughout the breaststroke, freestyle and particular person medleys spanning the 10-and-under class to her most up-to-date for the ages 15-16 group, that 2:09.81 within the 200m IM prelims at worlds.

“Leah believes in herself more than any athlete I’ve ever trained,” Hooper instructed SI in 2018. “She’s always had a very natural feel for the water. Nothing’s hard to teach her.”

Before the pandemic, Hayes posted on her bed room wall the instances wanted to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Trials.

She additionally pinned the quote, “Never set a limit on your dreams. You may not know when or where they will come true, but you must always believe that they will.” Missy Franklin tweeted that at age 17, the day after she completed the 2012 Olympics with 4 gold medals.

Hayes did make it to the Olympic Trials final 12 months. In three occasions, she didn’t get beat by any swimmers youthful than her whereas setting private bests within the 200m and 400m particular person medleys. She completed tenth and eleventh in these races.

“I wasn’t in the best shape that I could have been,” she mentioned final week. “Being there helped me realize that I want to go even further in the sport. I’d like to make the Olympics.”

This spring introduced new challenges. Hayes was identified along with her first vital harm, a stress fracture in her left foot. She was put in a strolling boot per week earlier than trials however may nonetheless shed it to swim.

Then at trials, she certified first into the 400m IM last, forward of three Tokyo Olympians, by chopping 3.32 seconds off her personal-best time in prelims.

Later that night time, she led the ultimate by way of 300 meters. In the final 100 meters of freestyle, Hayes dropped to fourth and touched the wall in a time 1.05 seconds slower than her prelim.

Though she expressed some disappointment, the instances put the whole lot into context. To break into the highest two to make the world workforce within the occasion, she would have wanted to go one other two seconds quicker than her prelim time. Plus, Hayes achieved her first aim by making the Junior Pan Pacs workforce within the occasion.

“Fourth in that race was a successful race for me,” Hooper mentioned. “To her, going back into a final that she’s seeded first, no matter who is seeded second, third and fourth, she wanted a better outcome for that.”

Then got here the 200m IM on the ultimate day, her favourite occasion. “It’s not too long,” Hayes mentioned, “but it also requires strategy.”

What Hayes didn’t anticipate was what came to visit the loudspeakers shortly after her prelim. She was disqualified.

“It was a dreadful moment,” Hayes mentioned.

An official deemed she flinched on the blocks, sufficient to name a false begin. Hayes gathered herself and went to the cooldown pool, the place a buddy congratulated her. What for? Hayes requested. They overturned the DQ, the buddy mentioned. Two lead officers had reinstated her.

“The amount of relief I felt was like a breath of fresh air,” mentioned Hayes, who mentioned your entire episode took about three minutes.

Hayes was the second seed for the ultimate and lived as much as it, touching the wall after Walsh to seize the final spot on the world workforce. She lowered her private greatest by 1.13 seconds within the greatest race of her younger life.

“So fast!” Walsh instructed Hayes as they embraced within the pool.

Then got here the whirlwind. Hayes did a post-race TV interview with Walsh. Then got here drug-testing, media and the world championships workforce announcement. Upon leaving the constructing, she obliged a big group of children by signing autographs.

Finally, dinner.

“You’re going to have so much down the road in the next six, eight weeks,” Hooper instructed Hayes that night time, waiting for the U.S. workforce’s pre-worlds camp in Croatia, after which the championships in Budapest. “But this is a moment where you get to celebrate and just think about all the good things that happened.”

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