Openly gay former Stanford swimmer Brian Jacobson will swim July 4 for a spot on the Olympic team

By Cyd Zeigler jr.

Last week we ran one of our most popular stories in over a year: The story of out swimmer Andrew Langenfeld headed to the Olympic Trials. One of the best results was our being introduced to Brian Jacobson, an IGLA champion swimmer who will also be competing this July 4. There are, undoubtedly, many other gay men and lesbians at the Trials, and we're very proud to bring you the story of a second.

Photo by Paul Figlmiller

Outsports: How long have you been swimming? Did you swim in high school and college?
Brian Jacobson: I've been swimming competitively since I was six and swam through high school in Southern California and two years at Stanford. I went through about five years of burn-out and started swimming again with a gay masters group in '99.
OS: Have you ever had any issues being an openly gay man on a swim team?
Brian: I had a really hard time at Stanford. I came out to my dorm in my sophomore year, but not to the team because I didn't really feel that close to any of them. I'd gone from a really close family-style age group team, to what felt like a hierarchical "boys' club" where you followed orders without asking questions and it didn't work for me. There were a couple of people on the team (and coaching staff) who were aggressively homophobic; not specifically to me or anyone else, but just apparently on principle (maybe being so close to San Francisco made them twitchy). I know now there was at least one other gay man, Alex Kostich [an open-water swim competitor now], but it wasn't acceptable thing on the team at the time. I stopped swimming with the team in spring of my second year and didn't go back to Stanford after the end of the year.
OS: Do you think swimming in general is a gay-friendly sport?
Brian: Like everything else, experiences will vary. I think there used to be a lot of worry (by straight men) that they'd appear gay in a sport that involved always being mostly naked and wet, so they'd overcompensate by being homophobic jerks. The increased visibility of serious swimming combined with an increased focus on mostly naked men in the media has changed this a lot.
At the US Swimming meets I've never had a problem, probably because I'm so outside the norm anyway: old (relatively), not with a team, and self-coached. At those meets all anyone usually sees is my performance in the water, and that speaks for itself.
The masters' level is very accepting, and there are lots of gay masters teams. The Long Beach Grunion, who have only been around for six years, took over their local yearly meet and quadrupled the attendance. The big IGLA meets are incredibly fun, and attendance is huge, sometimes rivaling the national masters meets.
Since it's an individual sport, there's obviously a lot of freedom in how you get to your ultimate goal. You can find a team that fits you, or even swim by yourself.
OS: When are you swimming in the Trials, and what event are you in?
Brian: I'm swimming the 50M free in prelims on Friday, July 4th. The top 16 will progress to semi-finals Friday evening, and the top eight from semi-finals will progress to finals Saturday evening.
OS: What are your chances of making the team?
Brian: Well, they only take the top two in every event, so I'd say my chances are slim but not completely impossible. 😉 A satisfying swim for me would be under 23 seconds and in the top 24 finishers. I was 22.91 at the IGLA meet in 2004 and feel more prepared now.
OS: What do you think of likely being one of the oldest people at the Trials?
Brian: I'm 34. I'm really excited to be swimming at this level at 35, but it's a lot more common than it used to be. I remember seeing Angie Wester-Krieg make the Olympic team in the 200 fly in '92 when she was 27 and thinking it was pretty impressive for someone of that age to balance a full-time job with success at that level.
At trials this year, there are four other guys in their thirties in the 50, and over in the women there's Dara Torres in a completely different decade!
What I love is running into people I used to complete against who are now coaching. It's fun seeing the looks on their faces when they realize I'm there to compete against their kids.
OS: What other sports have you played?
Brian: I'm a complete klutz at anything involving a ball and/or coordination with other people. I recently discovered that I actually like running, but have only done one 5K so far.
OS: You work at the Univ. of Minnesota, yeah? In what capacity?
Brian: I am in admissions for the MBA programs. I work with applicants during the application process, and handle a lot of our department's data reporting.

You can reach Brian Jacobson at his email address.

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