Carson Foster, US swimming's new phenomenon

Having set several records in multiple age categories, over various distances and in different swimming disciplines, Carson Foster is now a 17-year-old athlete with just one dream: to become part of the USA's national team at the Olympic Games. The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 should come just in time to see him break into the international elite alongside his biggest rival, none other than his brother Jake.

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Four minutes, 14 seconds and 92 hundredths of a second. That was the time recorded at the 2018 Pan-Pacific Junior Championships in August in Suva, Fiji, by Carson Foster in the 400m 15-16 individual medley. Born on 26 October 2001, he set the national record for his age group (16), beating the previous record of 4:15.20, set by Michael Phelps in 2001, by almost 0.3 seconds. Carson’s achievement made headline news in the sports press both at home and abroad.

At the age of 10, the swimmer from Cincinnati, Ohio, had already eclipsed Phelps in that age group in the 100m butterfly. "Michael Phelps held the record for 10 years and under, and I had looked at his time before the start of the season. Everyone admires him, and seeing my name next to a record, I don't know...I told myself 'I'm going to beat that record', just because it's Michael Phelps”, he explains.

The most decorated Olympian of all time then took a selfie with a sign that read "Congratulations Carson!" and sent it to his family. It was, according to his sister Hannah, his first-ever "big moment".

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"Phelps has changed the sport. He's made it more popular, and faster. And it's great that one person alone has managed to change this little sport called swimming in the way that he has. Ryan Murphy and Michael Phelps are my two swimming idols," reveals Carson, whose brother Jake is also on the fast-track to the international elite. In fact, the two Foster brothers often compete together, either in competition with one another or as team-mates in medley teams.

But that's not all for Carson. During the USA Swimming Championships, also in the summer of 2018, he set a new national record for 15-16-year-olds in the senior 200m individual medley, which qualified him for the B final. His time of 1:59.71 was better than that of 2013 junior world champion Andrew Seliskar, who clocked 1:59.84.

And so it goes on. In February 2019, at 17 years of age, he set a new national record for the 200-yard freestyle in a small pool, swimming his final in 1:32.99. The time was recorded at the Ohio Championships, where he also won the 100-yard backstroke. His brother Jake won the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard breaststroke. The Fosters were part of their Sycamore school's winning 200-yard medley relay team. They were the first two swimmers, Carson in backstroke and Jake in breaststroke. They also won the 400-yard freestyle relay, with Carson swimming the last leg.

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"I dream of representing the USA at the Olympic Games," said Carson, something of a backstroke specialist, although he also excels in the medley event. "I am a super-competitive person; I've always wanted to be first in everything, I love competition and I hate losing. I've always dreamed of going to the Olympic Games and swimming for the USA at the highest level. And that won't change. And if I get there, what next? It would be seeing if I can win a medal for my country. But I don't want to go from nought to 100 by saying ‘I'm going to break a record’. If I can make the team, if I win a medal, I can maybe break a record, but my dream is still to be part of the USA national team."

It is important to remember, however, that anyone who wants to win their ticket to the Olympic Games with a country that always has an extraordinary depth of talent, Olympiad after Olympiad, has to go through the qualifying races, the much-vaunted trials, where glory is born and dreams are shattered. The trials to form part of Team USA for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 will take place in Omaha, Nebraska, from 21 to 28 June 2020. Will we see Carson and his brother Jake, one year his senior, add to their succession of victories and take their first steps towards Olympic glory?