Justin Lynch won’t toot his own horn — though the swimming world is doing it for him.
By CHACE BRYSON | Editor
There was a time when Justin Lynch’s sole swimming motivation was earning a trip to Toys R Us.
“He repeated the first level (of lessons) two or three times,” said Lynch’s mother, Lia. “The only way I could get him to work with an instructor was to tell him we’d go to Toys R Us. There was a lot of Toys R Us.”
The bribes eventually tapered off. Which is good because Mom would have had a difficult time finding a commensurate reward for setting a national record once owned by Michael Phelps.
Lynch, who will turn 17 at the end of August, is one of the biggest buzz topics of the men’s swimming world after his performance at the National Swimming Championships and World Championship Trials in Indianapolis on June 27. On that day, swimming in the consolation final of the 100 meter butterfly, Lynch set the new national 15-16 age group record in a time of 52.75 seconds — one tenth faster than the previous record-holder, the one and only Phelps.
It was actually the second age group record of Phelps’ claimed by the Concord Terrapin Swim Club phenom. The home-schooled Vallejo native usurped the 13-14 age group record as well. But the most recent race is the one that has vaulted him into the national discussion.
Almost exactly one month removed of his record swim in Indianapolis, Lynch would take part in his usual Terrapins National Group afternoon practice while his parents sat poolside chatting with University of Florida and 2012 U.S. Olympics Men’s Swimming coach, Gregg Troy.
He and several other high-profile collegiate coaches have a very high opinion of Lynch these days.
“I’ve had some of the top coaches in the country tell me that his stroke right now is better than (Phelps’) was at that age,” Terrapins head coach Paul Stafford said. “He just touches water. When you watch him, he makes it look so easy.”
Lynch is the youngest of two children, with an older sister who now attends Pace University in New York. Both kids were introduced to swimming early, although neither Lia Nor her husband Joe Lynch were competitive swimmers. Despite a sturdy build and muscular physique, Joe Lynch’s athletic career consisted only of Little League baseball while growing up in Milwaukee.
Justin only decided to try swimming after his sister Kaitlyn was roped into the sport through some of her friends.
“He was pretty quiet growing up,” Joe Lynch said. “He was always a mellow kid, and he always seemed very thoughtful AND mindful of his sister.”
Still, the sport of swimming almost didn’t hold on to Justin.
His rise seems sudden now, but it’s actually been a steady progression since he turned 12 and made the fateful decision to stick with swimming after two years of balancing the sport with Taekwondo.
“With his older sister being a swimmer as well, it was getting too busy going all these places,” Joe Lynch said. “We gave him a choice and asked if he wanted to swim or go with Taekwondo. He thought about it a minute and then chose swimming.”
And that accelerated things, but not as quickly as one might expect based on what he’s accomplished recently.
“He was kind of quiet and kind of went through the motions,” Stafford said. “He was always pretty good and he was going to be good, but he was also a normal little boy who was more interested in a piece of pie and candy afterward than he was in the actual swimming side of things.”
Once he moved from the Terrapins age-group team to the elite, Stafford saw that it was time to give Lynch an extra push.
Prior to the summer of 2011, Lynch swam his first national qualifying time and that’s when his coach acted.
“There was a full summer before the Olympic Trials,” Stafford recalled. “I told him ‘You know, a year from now you’re going to be at Olympic Trials, so let’s go to some of these big meets now and get that experience.’”
So a 13-year-old Lynch transitioned to national-level competition.
“The first time he got up on the blocks and looked up at the guy next to him, who had arms like this and tattoos, you could just see the look on his face,” Stafford said. “He was scared to death.”
But once in the water, Lynch was every bit the bigger swimmers’ equal. He found out soon enough that he was more than their equal. One summer later he had a strong showing at the Olympic Trials and Stafford figured that it was then he started swimming like he believed he belonged.
It all culminated this June with the record-breaking swim. Lynch knew he was close to breaking the mark after missing it by one hundredth of a second during the qualifying heats.
“I was pretty nervous before the final,” Justin said. “I had missed the record earlier and I was thinking that I just wanted to get this done right. I nailed my breakout, and going into the wall I knew if I took the right amount of kicks, and they were fast enough, that I’d be on pace for the record.”
Stafford said it was about as strong a race as Lynch had swam to date.
“It was the first time he’d put together what I would call a picture perfect race,” Stafford said. “I don’t think there was anything we would change from that final swim, from a technical standpoint.”
Joe Lynch thinks the race was the catalyst for a new outlook on swimming from Justin. If the light bulb wasn’t lit before, it’s glowing bright now.
“He came back from that meet with an entirely different attitude,” he said. “It’s as if he really believes now that he can achieve what everybody has been telling him he can achieve.”
Lynch has spent July training for a very busy August. He’ll compete in the Junior National Championships in Irvine from Aug. 5-9. He’s planning to swim the 100 and 200 butterfly as well as the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle. That will lead into the World Junior Championships in Dubai from Aug. 26-31. He’s likely to be the gold medal favorite in the 100 butterfly at both events.
Despite his rapid rise to prominence, a blossoming new confidence in himself, and an endless line of college suitors seeking his talent, not much about Justin has changed.
“He retains a little of that same outlook he had when he first started with us,” Stafford said. “He carries a little bit of that pure enjoyment aspect of what he does. And that’s part of why he’s so good. He’s a very humble young man and he has a good perspective on the sport and always has.”
Lynch is still the kid who’s eyeing that piece of pie once he’s out of the water.
“I don’t see him changing at all,” Joe Lynch said.
“If he were to say bring home an Olympic gold medal for the United States. I don’t see him changing. The first thing he’d want to do after he won the medal is probably get something to eat.”
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