Most high school students don’t break one U.S. swimming record.
In the last 48 hours, Torri Huske broke two.
The 18-year-old from Arlington, VA smashed the women’s 100-meter butterfly record on Sunday in the semifinal race. She quickly followed it up with an even faster performance in the finals on Monday to win herself a spot on the 2020 Olympic team.
Her time of 55.66 seconds is not only the fastest time in the nation, but the quickest in the world this year. In addition, Huske’s race at the Olympic trials in Omaha, NE marked the third-fastest women’s 100-meter butterfly ever recorded, following China’s Zhang Yufei and current world champion Sarah Sjostrom from Sweden.
“I can’t believe it,” Huske said to reporters on Monday. “I feel like it’s just easier to focus on one thing. I feel like I get really honed in.”
In the semifinals, Huske swam 55.78, breaking Dana Vollmer’s nine-year-old national record. Within that minute, Huske went from a young upstart to a real gold medal contender.
Beyond her sheer speed, Huske has defined herself by her confidence in the pool.
“I was way more excited to race than I was nervous,” she said about the Olympic trials following her win in the semifinal event. “It was just like any other meet, just a little bit bigger.”
Throughout the pandemic, Huske — who will be swimming for Stanford University in the fall — lowered her personal best in three events. To focus on the trials, she decided to take her senior year of high school online through the Virtual Virginia learning program. In what is becoming true Huske-style, she sped through her lessons and finished her coursework in March with straight A’s, five of them in Advanced Placement classes.
Finishing her classes early allowed Huske to spend more time in the pool and in workouts. For her butterfly speed, in particular, she has worked on strength training exercises to help maintain her stamina.
“Having COVID postpone the Olympics trials for another year really helped me because I was able to work on my strength training,” Huske said to Swim Swam, an online swimming publication. “It makes a big difference in my second 50 [meters] because I tend to fly and die. I like to see how fast I can go out and how much I can hold on. I feel like the strength training has made a big difference.”
Strength training is incredibly important for someone like Huske, who is relatively small for a swimmer at 5-foot-8. Throughout the pandemic, she trained upward of four hours a day on the rowing machine, stationary bike, weight lifting, and on many days running through the hills in her neighborhood.
“Everybody in the neighborhood knows who she is because they’d see this girl sprinting up the hills day after day,” Jim Huske, her father, said to the Washington Post. “… She’s had a year and a half now of strength training, and it’s closed the gap. Nobody worked harder than her when COVID hit.”
Prior to the postponement of the Olympic trials, Huske was a rising star, winning five gold medals at the 2019 World Junior Championships in Budapest, first-place finishes in the 100-meter buttery, and 100-meter freestyle at the 2019 U.S. Open. However, Huske – alongside her rival, 16-year-old and new Junior World Record holder Claire Curzan, who took second in the 100-meter butterfly – has benefitted from the pandemic delay to develop speed and technique.
“Do I think she could have gone [to Tokyo] last year? Yes. I think she had a shot,” Jim Huske said. “But her shot was going to be significantly better this year.”
The duo of Huske and Curzan have always enjoyed competing against one another. They met during National Select Camps — a time for top swimmers in the nation to develop their skills, mentality toward racing, and formulate strategy — but became closer in Budapest. Now, they will get to compete once again in Tokyo.
Huske will continue the trail to Tokyo by competing in the 50-, 100-, and 200-meter freestyle events and the 200-meter individual medley. She also qualified for the 200-meter butterfly, but is unlikely to participate to focus on her other races.
As she continues to compete in Omaha, she’s not letting the challenge of the Olympic trials faze her. Instead, she thrives off the high stakes.
“I feel like I usually know what I’m capable of, but don’t know if I will go that time,” Huske said to reporters. “In the past, people have asked what I think will happen, but I usually dodge those questions.
“This is a good omen for what is next. I was still surprised when I saw the board. You don’t always know what will happen. I thought maybe I could go 55, but I wasn’t sure. The energy of the crowd here, you can feel it, and I swim better with energy. The more pressure there is, the better I do.”