Kitsap County is accustomed to being represented on the USA swim team at the Summer Olympics, but might there be two to come in 2020? It’s a bit early to know for sure, but one local swimmer will get the opportunity to qualify.
Tim Gallagher, a recent graduate of Kingston High School, will participate in the U.S. Olympic Time Trials this June thanks to his performance at the Phillips 66 National Championships, in which he won his finals heat in the 200-meter backstroke.
If he swims well enough, an invitation to Tokyo in the summer of 2020 could follow.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Gallagher said. “It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I’ve started swimming and it’s the last step before making the national team and going to the Olympics. It’s pretty exciting being that close to what I’ve worked for 10 years.”
However, Gallagher has an awful lot to do between now and then. For one, he has to get adjusted to a new life at college and swimming against the higher-quality competition.
Gallagher left for school this week, but that wasn’t a simple road trip to Seattle, Ellensburg or Pullman. He had to get all of his belongings on a plane to go to the University of Hawaii.
The college swimming season is much longer — practices begin in September and the short course season runs all the way through March. Then comes the NCAA postseason and the long course season. Gallagher said he’ll be spending most of the year in Hawaii while in college, only coming home for winter break and a short summer break.
But Gallagher, ever the competitor, is looking forward to his new challenge.
“I’m ecstatic, it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Gallagher said. “Everyone out there is going to be aiming towards the same goal, and it’ll be fun because it’s like club level swimming within the high school environment. That team camaraderie you get with the high school team with the fast intense swimming of club. I’m super excited to get out there and train with my new teammates.”
Crowning a ‘King’
When Gallagher entered the Kingston swimming program four years ago as a freshman, the Bucs weren’t well-known at the state level. The program had scored some points the previous year, qualified a couple of relays and finished 25th at the 2015 2A state meet.
Teaming up with older swimmers such as Quincy Walker, Bryce Hoffer and Duncan Platz, as well as classmate Ethan Fox, Kingston immediately jumped up to a sixth-place finish at the 2016 2A state meet. The next year, they captured a state championship crown. The Bucs have finished third overall in the past two years.
Gallagher holds two state-meet individual records — the 200-yard individual medley, which he set in 2018, and the 100-yard backstroke, which he broke in consecutive years, finishing his senior year with a time of 48.79, just seventh-tenths of a second off the overall state record.
He was also part of a record-setting 200-yard medley relay team with Aron Markow, Walker and Fox and a 400-yard freestyle relay team with Hoffer, Walker and Fox.
In all, Gallagher finished his career with 10 state championships either as an individual or as part of a relay team and played a part in putting Kingston on the map in the swimming world.
But most of all, Gallagher said he had a lot more fun swimming for his high school. It represents a nice change of pace from club swimming, which can be a bit more monotonous and doesn’t have quite the same intimate team environment.
“Having dual meets every week, just cheering on your entire team, it’s not really something that happens in club swimming,” Gallagher said. “High-school swimming really helped me enjoy the sport and gave me a reset in between my club seasons. And it really prepared me for going out trying to swim my best and giving everything I have for myself, my teammates and my coaches.”
Road to Nationals
The Phillips 66 Nationals took place at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., July 31-Aug. 4 and Gallagher qualified in both the 100- and 200-meter backstroke events.
Gallagher considers himself a better 200 backstroke swimmer, and the results bear that out for now as he qualified for the “D” finals in that event at nationals, which was a heat that had been set aside for the top 18-and-under swimmers in that event. His time in the preliminaries was 2:01.13.
“It was pretty exciting,” Gallagher said. “It was the highest level meet I had ever swum at. Former Olympians were there, people that were aiming towards Tokyo next year. It was a pretty cool environment.”
He didn’t have the top qualifying time, but that didn’t matter. Gallagher overtook another swimmer in the final 50 meters to capture a win in the “D” finals. His time was 2:00.21, and it’s the one that earned him an invitation to the Olympic time trials.
For a long time, Gallagher said he used to swim very conservatively in the first 100 meters and then would sprint the second 100 because he was afraid of running out of steam late in the race. He had to change his tactics to get away from that bad habit.
“The race strategy was to go out comfortable on the first 50 but at a fast tempo, and then really push the middle 100 because that’s where I tend to fall down on the sprints, and then to trust my last 50. The first and last 50 are given to you by adrenaline.”
We’ll see if that change continues to pay off. The U.S. Olympic Time Trials will take place on June 21-28, 2020.
Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MKrulishKDN.