Many people would rather not spend 11 days in June in Omaha, Nebraska. But for Joshua Zuchowski, a rising senior at the King’s Academy, there’s nowhere in the world that he would rather have been than in Omaha last month. Why? Because Omaha was the site of the 2021 U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.
Joshua, 17, was on a mission to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Swim Team headed to Tokyo in August for the Summer Olympics. He had some strong swims, but he was unable to secure a spot on this year’s U.S. team.
Not to worry, he’ll return in 2024 in an attempt to qualify for the next Olympics in Paris.
“It was a great experience for Josh. He’ll learn from it, and he’ll improve next time he goes to the U.S. Trials,” said Jonathan Zuchowski, his father, coach and the aquatics director at TKA.
Joshua is an established swimming sensation and the Florida High School Athletic Association’s reigning two-time state champion in the 200-yard individual medley and the reigning three-time state champion in the 100-yard backstroke. He’s looking for more state championship titles this coming fall during his senior year.
This year, Joshua qualified for Wave 2, which is the faster Olympic Trials meet where every Olympian must swim in order to be selected for the team traveling to Tokyo. Only the top two finishers in each individual event will represent the U.S. in that event at the Olympics.
On his first day of competition, Joshua swam the 400-meter individual medley. On day two, he swam the 100-meter backstroke. Day three was a day of training and rest. On day four, he competed in the 100-meter backstroke time trial. On day five, he swam the 200-meter backstroke. And on day six, he competed in a time trial for the 200-meter backstroke.
While he is experienced in the individual medley — which features 100 meters of butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle, in that order — he got off to a rough start in the race.
“His nerves got the better of him,” Jonathan said. “But Josh always rebounds.”
“I was extremely nervous,” Joshua recalled. “I was in the first heat of the first event of the trials. I felt good the first 100 [meters]. Then, I tightened up at the 125-meter mark, and I knew I was in trouble. We agreed to turn the page after the race and move on to the next event.”
On day two, in the 100-meter backstroke, Jonathan was pleased with his son’s performance.
“Joshua had a nice swim on day two in the 100-meter backstroke, as his time was a personal best. He finished in 41st place out of 61 swimmers,” Jonathan said.
On day five, Joshua swam the 200-meter backstroke. He finished 24th out of 45 swimmers. On day six, he had a bonus swim, earning a time trial in the 200-meter backstroke. His time was a personal best at 2:00.22. It was the 11th best time that weekend in the event, and the time now ranks him third in the U.S. for 18 & under.
Despite not making the team, Joshua was pleased with his preparation and overall performance.
“I did not make any mistakes at all,” he noted. “We had a good plan and executed it well. You can do all the training in the world, but walking into an arena for the first time is surreal. The biggest takeaway was that I needed this experience to help me be my best in 2024.”
With the Omaha experience in his rearview mirror, it’s time for Joshua to focus on the immediate future.
“Josh is looking forward to a big senior year,” Jonathan said. “He has a number of personal goals he is trying to achieve. He has a couple of meets this summer, but I am not putting any pressure on him. He enjoyed five days away from the pool after coming back from the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.”
After the high school season finishes in early November, Joshua is looking forward to a short break before preparing for the U.S. World Championship Swim Trials next April.
After graduating next May, Joshua will be attending college on a swimming scholarship. His collegiate choice will be announced at a future date on SwimSwam. It will be a joint announcement with Liam Custer, who swims for the Sarasota Sharks. Joshua Zuchowski is the number two recruit in the nation, while Custer is the nation’s third-ranked recruit. Both swimmers will be attending the same university.
“It’s his news to tell the world, and they have it planned together,” Jonathan said.
Joshua did give one slight hint to his final collegiate decision, based on the company he kept in Omaha while not swimming in the pool.
“I sat with my future college teammates the entire meet, which was so cool,” he said. “They stayed to cheer me on in my 200-meter backstroke time trial. It was awesome! I am very excited to announce my college decision in the near future.”
Joshua is already looking forward to competing at the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in 2024. His memory of this year’s trials is strong, vivid and positive. He can’t wait to return in a few years.
“Everything about the Olympic Trials was awesome,” he recalled. “The competition pool and training pool were awesome. USA Swim put on a great event.”