Torri Huske, a swimmer vying for Tokyo, has struggled to find an Olympic-size pool
The concept seems impossible, near the capital city of swimming’s most dominant country, but every avenue has given way to a roadblock. In a normal year, by late March or early April, most local pools would have converted from their fall and winter 25-yard configuration to their typical 50-meter setup — the Olympic standard — for the spring and summer. But because of pandemic-related restrictions, pools can accommodate more swimmers in a 20-lane, 25-yard setup than in an eight-lane, 50-meter grid. Most have opted to stay at 25 yards.
“I feel like when you train short course and then you race long course, it’s a little bit harder because there’s more swimming long course,” said Huske, an 18-year-old senior at Yorktown High. “Even though you’re basically going the same distance, since there’s less walls, you get more tired. If you’re not training for it, you [could] fade at the end. That’s the main difference: the last 15 meters, I would say.”
For Huske’s father, Jim, the resulting hunt for an Olympic-sized pool turned into a dizzying traipse through neighboring states, local rec tournaments and even Washington power circles.
The best local option has been the St. James in Springfield, which offers Huske a 50-meter pool once per week when it doesn’t host a meet. At Jeff Rouse Swim and Sport Center in Stafford, Va., Huske made the unorthodox move of using the pool to train alone between the prelims and finals of a long-course meet Saturday.
But other than that, Jim Huske has contacted every pool in the area and has been mostly shut out. Pools from Manassas to Baltimore — as well as those used by elite clubs such as Nation’s Capital Swim Club and Rockville Montgomery Swim Club — have not fully converted their lanes.
Other clubs in the area will send swimmers to the Olympic trials, but none are as likely to qualify for Tokyo as Huske, who swims for Arlington Aquatic Club. Arlington was set to finish building an Olympic-sized pool at Long Bridge Park in Crystal City by the end of 2020 — but the pandemic halted that, too, because of budget concerns and construction delays. The pool is now scheduled to open in July.
Huske’s family has offered to move the lane lines for the pools and then move them back after training, but that request has been denied. Pool owners have set opening dates for the Olympic configuration, only to repeatedly delay them.
The exact disadvantage of training on a short course for a long-course meet is hard to quantify. Huske’s few long-course races this spring have put her on pace to succeed in June — this month in Cary, N.C., she won the 100-meter freestyle race in 53.46 seconds, the 50-meter freestyle in 24.44 seconds and the 200-meter individual medley in 2:11.65. And that came after minimal long-course training in previous weeks.
“I think people tend to make it much more critical than it really is,” NBC swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines said. “You’re still getting training, still working on turns. For her, she has such a beautiful stroke, her body is young enough to adapt to meters pretty easily. I just don’t think it’s going to hurt her.”
But the competition at the U.S. Olympic trials is the best in the world, with only two Americans qualifying in each event. In the 100-meter butterfly, for instance, Huske is the fourth-ranked swimmer this year but the second-ranked American, and her best time is 0.74 seconds better than those of the third- and fourth-best Americans. By those standards, it will be about as difficult for the Americans to qualify for the Olympics as it will be to make the final once they get there.
Meanwhile, virtually all of Huske’s main competitors have been training in long-course pools. Professionals and collegians can train in college pools. Because Huske has committed to Stanford, she is prohibited from training with another college team — and those schools, in turn, haven’t opened their pools to anyone but the teams.
“Basically, it’s never happened before,” said Evan Stiles, Huske’s coach. “Because I don’t remember in  when the Spanish flu was going on if they were worried about long course.”
This is a problem specific to the few teenage Olympic hopefuls in America. One of Huske’s few peers is Claire Curzan, who trains in Cary, where Triangle Aquatic Center has converted its pool to long course. Huske beat Curzan in the 100-meter freestyle there before Curzan out-touched Huske in the 100-meter butterfly.
TAC and others offered Huske the chance to train in their 50-meter pools if she were to leave home, and sure, like many elite athletes, Huske considered it. But to uproot her life with less than two months before the trials would be a challenge in itself.
“The problem is, Torri’s very comfortable here with her friends and her swimming team, and she knows them, and we know how important it is just to have a great mental mind-set,” Jim Huske said. “We don’t want to mess with that.”
For now, the family is trying every lead it can find. A family friend reached out to the office of Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.); another contacted a general in the military with the aim of granting Huske access to the fitness center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda. (Huske’s mother also works for the Navy.)
Whatever the result of this two-month pool quest, the Huskes are set to leave for Omaha on June 10, fully vaccinated and double-masked, and the 18-year-old with an Olympic berth on the line seems the least worried of anyone.
“She says, I think I can make it anyway,” Jim Huske said. “She’s a kid who — Dad’s worrying about this more than her.”
Rick Maese contributed to this report.