Fox Chapel’s Zoe Skirboll competes with nation’s best swimmers at Olympic qualifiers

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021 | 5:12 PM


Zoe Skirboll went into this year’s Olympic swimming trials with the attitude of enjoying the moment and gaining experience for the future.

She didn’t make the Team USA swim team, but she produced one of the her best efforts and gained confidence she could one day be an Olympian.

Skirboll, a rising senior at Fox Chapel, set a personal best in three events at the USA trials in Omaha, Neb.

In Wave I qualifiers June 4-5, Skirboll set a personal record in the 100-meter breaststroke, breaking the 1-minute, 10-second mark for the first time at 1:09.82. She also swam a 56.13 in the 100 freestyle. In Wave II qualifiers the following week, she set a record in the 200 individual medley at 2:16.75, dropping a half second from her previous personal best.

It was a strong showing for the 16-year-old in her first attempt at the Olympic qualifiers.

“Going into it, I just wanted to be there for the experience and not put too much pressure on myself,” Skirboll said. “Swimming is a big mental game, so you have to remember why you’re there, and whatever happens, happens. I wanted to enjoy it, and I ended up getting three personal-best times out of it, which I was very grateful and excited about.”

Skirboll got a taste of the intensity that surrounds trying to earn the right to be an Olympian.

“It had the highest energy level of any meet I’d ever been to,” Skirboll said. “It was amazing seeing all these Olympians and people I’ve looked up to get out there and race. Some of my friends and people that I know made the team, and that was emotional. Just seeing all the hard work pay off is really special.”

Another perk of the Olympic trials was having the opportunity to meet Virginia swim coach Todd DeSorbo and some future Cavaliers teammates in person.

Skirboll committed to Virginia in August 2020, but because of campus visitation restrictions stemming from the covid-19 pandemic, her contact with the Cavaliers coaching staff was done virtually.

“It was amazing meeting coach Todd and everyone on the team and seeing their energy,” Skirboll said. “They had five girls make the Olympic team and getting to sit with them and experience that was probably the most special thing from the entire meet.”

In 2016, Skirboll was a spectator for a day at the Olympic trials, and now she has taken the next step by becoming a competitor. The next thing on the list is making Team USA for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.

“With it being my first time competing, I really didn’t know what to expect,” Skirboll said. “It’s quite a different experience being a spectator compared to an athlete. Four years ago, I had the goal that I wanted to be a swimmer there. I wanted to be a person in the pool. This year, I told myself that in three years I want to make the Olympic team. This time was really special being my first Olympic trials, and now that I have some experience, the next time I believe I’ll be a little more prepared.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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