Carson Foster: A USA swimming star in the making

STANFORD, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 02: Carson Foster swims in the 400m Individual Medley final during day 3 of the Phillips 66 National Championships on August 02, 2019 in Stanford, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
STANFORD, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 02: Carson Foster swims in the 400m Individual Medley final during day 3 of the Phillips 66 National Championships on August 02, 2019 in Stanford, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The Ohio native broke Michael Phelps' record as a junior and now, aged 19, is ready to make his mark on the world at the Tokyo Olympics.

Carson Foster may only be 19, but he is already being touted as a future star of USA swimming.

In truth, he has actually been earmarked for glory for quite some time. The Ohio-born athlete first burst onto the scene as a 10-year-old, breaking Michael Phelps’ national age-group record in the 100m butterfly. 

But unlike the 23-time Olympic gold medallist, Foster grew up in the age of social media, meaning that his amazing effort that day in 2012 was quickly uploaded onto YouTube, and shared around the world. Over 300,000 times to be exact.

“Everyone looks up to Michael Phelps,” Foster told Olympic Channel in his episode of Heroes of the Future in 2018. “He changed the sport, made it a lot more popular, and also a lot faster.

“So seeing his name next to the record, I knew I wanted to try and break it. It was a great moment.”

Meet the young US swimmer who broke Michael Phelps’ record
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Carson Foster is one the world’s fastest young swimmers. At the age of 10, he broke one of his idols records: Michael Phelps.

Unsurprisingly, Phelps soon caught wind of Foster’s performance, and sent a photo of himself with a board reading: ‘Congrats Carson!” to the Foster family.

But child prodigies are nothing new in the USA, especially in swimming. It was still too early to tell whether he had what it takes to make it at the top level.

Those questions were emphatically answered in the run-up to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where Foster aged 14, and his two siblings Hannah and Jake, all qualified for Olympic Trials. Carson placed 43rd in the 400 IM.

“Being able to experience that at 14 and watch my idols make the team – that’s where I feel like I really started idolising swimmers,” Carson told Swimming World. “Seeing them making the team and the emotion behind that… I remember when Jay (Litherland) made the team and was hugging his brothers. I was thinking maybe that could be me with my siblings some day.

“I honestly got out of my race and was like ‘dang I am done for the week, now I am on vacation! I get to hang out in the athlete zone!’ We stayed the whole week and I was just along for the ride.”

Foster carried on that momentum in 2017, when he became the youngest member of the USA Junior World Championship team ever at the age of 15. In an effort well beyond his years, he took home the 200m backstroke silver medal.

Two years later, he was named captain of the team, and the excitement surrounding his name continued to build.

“I think all that is fun just because it is nice to get praised for swimming well but you also have to take it with a grain of salt,” the University of Texas student told Swimming World of being a celebrity in his sport.

“I have grown the last couple of years knowing when you’re swimming well, everything is awesome, and when you’re having an off meet, people tend to not care as much." - Carson Foster

Foster dropped the backstroke from his repertoire in order to focus on the individual medley and freestyle events.

The move paid dividends and, one year out from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Foster was crowned 200 IM world junior champ and even broke a world junior record in the 400 IM. But he was still considered an outside bet to grab one of the two senior Olympic qualifying berths, such is the USA’s depth of medley talent, which includes Chase Kalisz, Jay Litherland, Michael Andrew and Ryan Lochte.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 05:  Chase T. Kalisz poses with his gold medal next to silver medalist Carson J. Foster and bronze medalist Ryan S. Lochte during the awards ceremony for the Men's 200 LC Meter Individual Medley final on day two of the 2019 Toyota U.S. Open Championships at the Georgia Tech Campus Recreation Center on December 05, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - DECEMBER 05: Chase T. Kalisz poses with his gold medal next to silver medalist Carson J. Foster and bronze medalist Ryan S. Lochte during the awards ceremony for the Men's 200 LC Meter Individual Medley final on day two of the 2019 Toyota U.S. Open Championships at the Georgia Tech Campus Recreation Center on December 05, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
2019 Getty Images

That all changed when the global pandemic caused the Games to be postponed. With an extra year to mature into his adult body, Foster transformed from fringe flyer to firm favourite. As the fastest swimmer in the States over 400 IM this year, fourth in the 200 IM and seventh in the 200 free, 2021 is surely his time.

“My dream has always been to go to the Olympics and compete for the United States on the largest stage,” Foster continued. “That will always be my dream.

“It is wild to think that potentially now I am in a situation where if all goes well I can find myself in that position (to make the team). I am super grateful for my teammates and coaches because it has been a super long five years.

“If I accomplish that, the next step is to see if I can win a medal. If I can win a medal, then maybe I can get a record.”