Editor’s Note: An LA84 grant to the USC Annenberg Institute of Sports, Media and Society funded three reporters to attend, report and write stories from the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
BUDAPEST- While most of the athletes participating at the 2017 FINA World Championships are veterans, there are also a number of young faces taking part for the first time in the 75 elite events. Like a group teenagers from the Northern Mariana Islands, way out in the Pacific Ocean.
How did these young athletes get to the championships? Even though they are in some cases hardly old-timers, they point to their youth sport experiences. “My parents wanted me to join swimming to be water-safe, because I really wanted to swim in places on our island but I wasn’t well-rounded. Swimming gave me the opportunity to go to these places,” said 17-year-old David Roberto. “I think water safety is definitely important for everyone, especially younger people.”
Roberto and teammate Christian Villacrusis, also 17, started swimming together when they were just 4. “We had lessons together and we eventually made it up to the senior group. This led us to the travel team and a lot of good opportunities,” said Villacrusis.
Jinju Thompson, 14, was inspired to swim by those around her. “My older friends and other swimmers in our swim club would go off-island to these meets and that really motivated me because I wanted to travel and see bigger better things,” she said.
The opportunity for the four swimmers to participate in sports growing up helped them network and find confidence within themselves. In Budapest, that confidence helped them represent their hometown in front of thousands of fans.
“Swimming is important for our island and the other Northern Mariana Islands because our islands are commonly unknown. Just being here and being able to represent our island is so unique and special to us,” Thompson added.
In Budapest, Villacrusis swam a personal best in the 100-meter breaststroke, 1:16.70. Victoria Chentsova, also 17, touched the wall at 4:47.15 in the 400-meter freestyle. And while they didn’t beat U.S. standout Katie Ledecky or British breaststroke star Adam Peaty, they were still excited about their performances. Because for these athletes, the events are about more than just swimming.
“Swimming allowed us to create connections all over the world and really have memories with other people and swimmers,” Roberto said.