By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, June 7, 2019
Next month is a big one for Jordan Wilimovsky.
Not only will he compete in the open water competition in Yeosu, South Korea as part of the 18th FINA World Championships, but he’ll also swim the 800 and 1500 freestyle pool events in Gwangju at the last big international meet before next summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games.
While the pool events are important to him – mostly to continue his personal goal of proving that U.S. men’s distance swimming continues on the uptick internationally after some down years – the most important event for Wilimovsky is the 10k open water swim.
A top 10 finish will guarantee him a spot among next year’s U.S. open water Olympic contingent.
“Obviously, my main goal is to qualify (for the Olympics), but anytime you get to represent the United States, you want to swim fast,” said Wilimovsky, who will compete in open water first and then the pool events the following week at Worlds. “Hopefully, I’ll be ready to have some good pool races, too.”
Even though this will be his first time competing in both the pool and open water at Worlds, Wilimovsky is no stranger to this very unique challenge.
Three years ago at the 2016 Olympics, he competed in both the 1500 freestyle and 10k Open Water competitions in Rio de Janeiro.
It marked the first time an American swimmer (male or female) competed in both events since open water was first included in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
In his pool event – the 1500 freestyle – he finished fourth and just missed the medal stand.
A few days later in the open water 10k race in the Atlantic Ocean at Copacabana Beach, he trailed for the first half of the race but made a furious rally at the end only to come up just short again. This time, he was fifth – but only missed a medal by three seconds.
Having done the same thing in 2016 – first making the Open Water Olympic team (at 2015 Worlds) and then adding a pool event a year later at Olympic Trials – Wilimovsky knows going to Omaha next summer with an Olympic spot already a done deal will put less pressure on him.
He said he sees a lot of natural overlap and success between pool and open water competition because there isn’t much difference in training for both.
“I think open water has historically kind of been this ‘very different’ discipline of swimming, and there are for sure a lot of unique aspects to it, but you have to look at it as just another event,” said Wilimovsky, who swept the 400, 800 and 1500 free titles at 2018 Winter Nationals last December.
“I think you’re seeing more and more people who are successful at open water who are great swimmers in the pool, too, not just open water athletes. I know both the top U.S. women – Ashley (Twichell) and Haley (Anderson) are really good in the 1500 and 800, and on the men’s side internationally, the top guys are all sub-15 1500 guys or top pool swimmers as well.”
The first time Wilimovsky did both open water and pool events at a major international competition was at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships, where he swam in the 1500 free and open water 10k.
Considering he didn’t start swimming year-round until the age of 10 and his first Open Water meet wasn’t until the 2011 Open Water Nationals, he knows he continues to make tremendous strides each year.
Most recently, he won the 10K open Water competition along with taking gold and silver in the 1500 and 800 free events, respectively, at 2018 Pan Pacific Championships.
“For a long time, I wasn’t very good; however, toward the end of high school,” said Wilimovsky, who started competing in Open Water as a 16-year-old at the urging of his coach Dave Kelsheimer.
“I started to improve and have significant time drops and thought it would be an outside possibility to make the (Olympic) team. From there, I just worked to improve every day, year by year, and the possibility of making the team became more and more realistic.”
Wilimovsky said while his early results were “pretty bad,” the experience itself proved pivotal for him.
He learned how much he enjoyed the competition but still wanted to keep competing in the pool as well.
“I think I just saw it as another opportunity to race, and being a distance swimmer, it was fun to try doing a 10k,” he said.
Wilimovsky said he has prepared the past few months (since Open Water Nationals in early May) for both open water and pool like he normally does.
Even with this being an Olympic qualification year for open water, he has kept the volume up in the pool as well.
“I think it’s important to keep a steady focus throughout the meet, as all the open water guys will be finishing racing and their seasons, but I’ll have another week of racing,” he said. “For me, open water and pool swimming are pretty equal. Both have different aspects I really enjoy.
“It’s cool because open water is just a pure race. And then it’s also cool to switch gears and race in the pool where it’s all about times and splits and pace. Open water has historically kind of been this ‘very different’ discipline of swimming, and there are for sure a lot of unique aspects to open water, but you have to look at it as just another event.”
When he’s not training or swimming, Wilimovsky said he enjoys surfing and spending time at the beach – and lately, he and his brother, Alec, started rock climbing.
Still, his focus remains on swimming fast and setting himself up for a great World Championships and another auspicious Olympic year in 2020.
“I try and stick to my race strategy no matter what,” said Wilimovsky, the 10k silver medalist at the most recent World Championships in 2017. “Obviously. you need to make small changes throughout the race, but generally it remains the same.”