SARANAC LAKE - A week ago, America's best swimmers, including Michael Phelps, were battling it out in Omaha, Neb. to see who earned spots on the United States Olympic team.
This week, it's Tom Kilroy's turn to swim in the very same pool at the 17,000-seat CenturyLink Center. The Saranac Lake resident, who turns 70 next week, returns to competition after a three-year layoff as he swims in the United States Masters Swimming national championships.
Kilroy had been a familiar face and multiple medal winner swimming each summer at the Empire State Games, but when funding was cut from New York's budget for the event, he was left without an outlet for his competitive nature in the pool. Now Kilroy will get the opportunity to see where he stacks up against the top age-group swimmers in the country as he competes on a national level for the first time.
Tom Kilroy of Saranac Lake flew to Nebraska on Wednesday to compete in the United States Masters Swimming Championships. He begins competition today with the 800-meter freestyle event.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
In a masters meet that features more than 1,200 swimmers from across the United States, Kilroy will compete in five events starting today with the 800 meters.
"I'm swimming in the same pool where they just had the Olympic trials," Kilroy said. "It's been three years since my last swimming meet. There hasn't been much going on competition-wise since the Empire States were dropped, so I decided to give this a try. I'm going just because I like to swim and I'm a competitive guy."
The top 10 swimmers in each event will earn medals, and Kilroy will be competing in the 70-74 age group, which he said will feature about 40 athletes. Although Kilroy doesn't expect to win any races, he does hope to bring home medals. Based on his times, Kilroy is ranked 11th in the country or better in each of the five events he'll swim in, including his best seeding - a sixth in the 50-meter breast stroke.
"The guys that are in the top five, they are head and shoulders above the rest of us," Kilroy said. "My goal is going top 10 in a couple of events, but if everything comes together mentally and physically for me, maybe I can go top 10 in all five races.
"This is my first national meet," he added. "The only other time I competed outside New York State was in Virginia and a Colonies Zone meet. There were about 300 swimmers there. The nationals is a brand-new thing for me. I'm really excited."
Kilroy will be a "youngster" in Nebraska, and being a first-year competitor in the 70-to-74-year-old division also gives him a boost of confidence.
"I'm a young pup in a new age group, and being a younger guy in my division could be an advantage," Kilroy said. "I hope so. We'll just have to wait and see."
Kilroy said his best shot at placing high will be in the shorter events, adding that his strength is usually in the sprint races.
Not only did Kilroy say it's exciting to be competing for the first time in a national-level meet, he's also thrilled to be swimming in a Myrtha pool, which is known as the most technologically advanced type in the world. Each year, the masters nationals hold two events, with the spring meet being the short course competitions in a 25-meter pool and the summer event being hosted in a 50-meter pool.
"I'll be in the fastest pool in the world," Kilroy said. "When you look down each lane, it's like a sheet of glass. I'm really excited to be swimming in that environment. It will be interesting to see my times."