Jordan Wilimovsky said last month that it would be “cool” to compete on the world’s biggest athletic stage, making him a champion of the understatement.
It’s a descriptor he still owns, although this week there’s a more fitting title for him: Olympic qualifier.
The standout Team Santa Monica swim club member secured a bid to compete at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro by taking first place in the men’s 10-kilometer open-water race at the FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia.
Wilimovsky completed the course in 1hour 49 minutes and 48.2 seconds, finishing about 12 seconds ahead of Dutch runner-up Ferry Weertman.
He became the first American since 2005 to win gold in the event at the elite international competition.
Wilimovsky lingered towards the back of the front pack for the first half of the grueling race, then surged to the front with about 3 kilometers left and held off his opponents the rest of the way.
“My strategy was to hang back for the first five kilometers, build up at the last five kilometers and have enough at the end to hopefully finish fast,” Wilimovsky told the Associated Press.
After his victory, Wilimovsky lifted his right arm out of the water and extended his index finger in celebration.
The Olympic berth signals another landmark accomplishment for Wilimovsky, who qualified for the world championships with a first place finish in the 10k at the USA Swimming Open Water National Championships in April.
The son of Rolf and Wendy Wilimovsky didn’t start swimming until he was about 9-years-old, but he’s made eye-popping improvements in the sport since trying out for an area lifeguard team more than a decade ago.
He took second place in the 10-kilometer at the open-water nationals in 2014 to qualify for the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia, where he finished 16th in the same event.
Less than a year later, he’s a legitimate contender in the event won by Tunisia native Oussama Mellouli in the 2012 Olympics in London. Indeed, just a year separates Wilimovsky from the opening ceremonies next August at the Summer Games in Brazil.
Qualifying for the Olympics alongside Wilimovsky was fellow American Sean Ryan, who took fourth place with a time of 1:50:03.3. Their competition field in Russia also included Greece’s Spyridon Gianniotis, a two-time10-kilometer world champion, who claimed the bronze medal with a time of 1:50:00.7.
An alumnus of Malibu High, Wilimovsky is taking a year off from Northwestern University to train for the Olympics under Team Santa Monica coach Dave Kelsheimer and focus on his budding swimming career. Kelsheimer accompanied Wilimovsky to the world championships, serving as an assistant coach on the USA Swimming staff.
Wilimovsky will spend many hours at Santa Monica Swim Center in the coming months as he prepares for the athletic journey of a lifetime. Pretty “cool” indeed.