They come a long way to swim a short distance
Stars and Stripes February 25, 2023
EINDHOVEN, Netherlands – Jake Jennings spent four years creating relationships in and out of pools across Europe while his family was stationed at Sigonella in Italy.
Then came the news the Jennings family was headed to Bahrain. While understanding he had local opportunities, the 13-year-old swimmer was concerned about getting a chance to see those friends and competing against the best American swimmers that Europe has to offer.
Jennings and his family eventually figured it out. Unattached to any team, he hit the 50-meter pool on Saturday at the Pieter van den Hoogenband Zwemstadion at the Zwemcentrum de Tongelreep for the European Forces Swim League Short Distance Championships.
“I didn’t know when we first got there how difficult it was going to be to get back to Europe,” said Jennings, who competed in the 13- to 14-year-old age group. “I’m super happy that we made it work.”
His opponents may not feel the same way, as Jennings had put together a successful day.
Jennings won two of the four individual races in which he competed – the100-meter butterfly in 1 minute, 8.86 seconds and the 400 freestyle in 4:34.98. He also raced with a group of unattached swimmers in the 15- to 19-year-old mixed 200 medley relay as the first leg.
The 13-year-old also received the pentathlon award in the middle of the day. That honor goes to the individual in each age group who posted the fastest total times from his or her best times during the regular season in the 100 individual medley, 50 butterfly, 50 breaststroke and 50 freestyle for the ages groups 11- to 12-years old and younger; and the 200 IM, 100 butterfly, 100 backstroke, 100 breaststroke and the 100 freestyle for the 13- to -14-year-old age group and older.
Jennings’ time was 7:12.99 (2:30.4 in the IM, 1:12.20 in the butterfly, 1:09.29 in the backstroke, 1:21.74 in the breaststroke and 59.36 in the freestyle).
His father and coach, Justin, said he notices a difference between when Jake swims locally than when he competes in the EFSL.
“In his races back in Bahrain, it’s almost like business,” Justin Jennings said. “When he comes here, he gets to see all his older friends that he’s built those relationships with, and he almost seems a little more at ease.”
Jake, who said his best stroke is freestyle, agreed that he swims more relaxed against his buddies.
“I have a lot of friends here,” Jake said, “so it’s awesome to come back twice a year, three times a year and see all of them.”
Heading into the second year of his parents’ assignment, Jake expressed hope he won’t be alone at the 2024 EFSL Championships. The Falcon Swim Team began this year, so maybe he won’t be “unattached.”
“This year was our first year, and we’ve been slowly building a pool of competitive swimmers,” Justin said. “We hope to come back next year with more swimmers. … We want them to have experiences that we’re able to have.”
Among the other pentathlon winners, a pair of Stuttgart sisters stuck out.
Victoria, 14, and Vivien, 12, O’Hara won their respective age groups during the regular season. Victoria won by 1.17 seconds over Berlin’s Francesca Dauck (7:31.76 to 7:32.93), while Vivien’s 3:44.35 season total bested Kaiserslautern’s Anna Heaphy by 3.23 seconds.
The O’Haras weren’t done there, though, as they both came out on top in one race each. For Victoria, it was the 100 butterfly in a time of 1:09.99 (0.01 seconds ahead of Dauck in second), and for Vivien, it was the 50 butterfly in 33.65 seconds.
“It means a lot,” Vivien said of the pentathlon award. “I swim a lot, and it feels really nice to win awards.”
Even more special for the O’Haras is the fact they get to swim together – even if they’re not in the same age group.
Vivien pointed out the advice her older sister gives her, such as avoiding ways to get disqualified and working on her form. Victoria, meanwhile, mentioned how the connection between the two has grown over the years.
“We’ve been swimming together for a really long time,” Victoria said. “So, it’s been really nice.”
Other pentathlon winners include: Emma Heaphy, Kaiserslautern, 8 and younger girls; Jack Murphy, Kaiserslautern, 8 and younger boys; Benthe de Beer, Geilenkirchen, 9-year-old girls; Monty Welsh, SHAPE, 9-year-old boys; Avery DeBoer, Naples, 10-year-old girls; Elijah Love, Stuttgart, 10-year-old boys; Summer Abrams, Kaiserslautern, 11-years-old girls; Theodore Kappas, Kaiserslautern, 11-year-old boys; Jacob Furqueron, Kaiserslautern, 12-year-old boys; Isabella Cardenas, Rota, 15-16 girls; Benjamin Heath, Kaiserslautern, 15-16 boys; Kendall Kaloostian, Wiesbaden, 17-19 girls; and Mason Koeth, Wiesbaden, 17-19 boys.
Also on Saturday, four EFSL records were broken.
Kaiserslautern’s Grace Cooper beat the 15-16 girls’ mark in the 100 breaststroke set last year by Geilenkirchen’s Hylcke de Beer with a 1:14.31, and NATO’s Maj Pavesic beat Philipp Hegner’s 11-year-old record in the 15-16 boys 100 breaststroke. Rota’s Isabella Cardenas beat a 15-year-old record in the 15-16 girls 400 freestyle with a 4:37.22.
Then, to finish off the day, Kaiserslautern’s 15-19 mixed medley relay of Eliza Furqueron, Cooper, Keaton Tottle and Benjamin Heath just squeaked past the Feb. 29, 2020, mark of 2:01.60 in the event by another Kaiserslautern team, as the Kingfish finished in 2:01.18.