By Shannon Sims, OZY
What do you do once you’ve beaten Michael Phelps’ record? At 16 years old?
The response of swimmer Justin Lynch, who turned 18 last month, is to just keep practicing, chasing the dragon of his record-breaking memory, with an eye on the 2016 Rio Olympics.
That memory-making moment came at the USA Swimming finals last year. He’d broken a Phelps age-group record in the 100-meter butterfly at 14, but now competition was stiffer among the older swimmers.
While many of his competitors in the 15–16 age group had already ballooned up with muscles and ripped six-packs, Lynch looked pretty ordinary, his appearance giving no hint at the beast in the water.
But the moment was caught on tape. He swam 52.75, breaking Michael Phelps record for the 15-16 100-meter butterfly and a new era had begun. At only 16, Lynch had bested the best.
He fought off a smile as it triggered on both sides of his mouth, but once his competitors began congratulating him, he gave in.
Since then, Lynch has only gotten faster. He spoke with OZY from his home in Vallejo, where he grew up.
He was packing before setting off for his first year at UC Berkeley where he plans to major in business. He says he chose CAL, in part for coach David Durden’s reputation for underwater work: the quiet, transitional parts of the race at the start and after turns.
The Cal team is also the reigning NCAA champion in men’s swimming and diving. Lynch is headed for the big leagues.
He seems remarkably well balanced and well spoken for an 18-year old who’s getting fed a taste of fame. For every compliment he allows, he offers a slightly self-deprecating remark and a gentle laugh.
He used the word “lucky” again and again, as if by sheer luck he had beaten Phelps’ times, and he’s quick to credit his peers and his coaches for his rising success.
His record-breaking swim made headlines in 2013, but not just for his time. With an African-American father and a Filipina mother, Lynch will be the only minority swimmer on the Cal team.
Swimming is overwhelmingly white, perhaps a result of the history of discrimination in access to municipal swimming pools. The modern-day result can be tragic: nearly 70 percent of African-American children between the ages of 5 and 14 have little to no swimming ability, and they drown at rates three times that of white children.
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