IRVINE — In the early days of the pandemic, Olympic swimmer Jordan Wilimovsky of Venice became so desperate for a place to train amid the closures, he opted for his uncle’s backyard pool.
U.S. national team member Erica Sullivan of Las Vegas took a similar route, turning to the backyard pool of her attorney.
Both felt grateful for those pools, but they were considerably more comfortable in their familiar racing environment at the U.S. Open at the Woollett Aquatics Center on Thursday, Nov. 12.
The pair headlined the first night of the three-day meet, the first in Orange County and greater Los Angeles area since the start of the pandemic.
And while their races in the 800-meter freestyle didn’t exactly go as planned, Sullivan, 20, and Wilimovsky, 26, remained appreciative.
“As long as they have a 50-meter pool and someone timing, I’m excited,” Wilimovsky said after outdueling Mission Viejo Nadadores newcomer John Gallant. “It’s just fun to race again.”
Irvine is one of nine cities across the nation hosting the U.S. Open for a mixture of Olympians, collegians and up-and-comers.
Arabella Sims, a 15-year-old from Nevada’s Sandpipers club, took care of the up-and-comers part of the equation, upsetting Sullivan, her better-known teammate.
Sims captured the night’s opening heat by slicing almost nine seconds off her entry time to clock a time of 8 minutes, 27.01 seconds to hold off Sullivan, a one-time USC commit now headed to the University of Texas who touched in 8:31.38.
The meet is using a timed-finals format, which combines the results from across the country to determine a winner. It found a new star in Sims. She claimed the overall U.S. Open title and became the fifth-fastest performer in the 800 for the 15-16 age group.
“She’s a great racer,” Sullivan said of Sims. “It was fun. She’s a hard-worker so it’s always fun to throw down.”
Wilimovsky used a strong surge in the final 25 meters to claim his heat in 8:01.40. The former Malibu High standout placed fifth overall in the U.S. Open, but his time was well off his entry time of 7:49.76 and about a three-quarters of a second ahead of Gallant.
“That was a fun race,” said Wilimovsky, who has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in open water. “The time wasn’t particularly quick or anything like that, but I wasn’t expecting too much. Just trying to see where we’re at right now in training.”
The meet resumes Friday, Nov. 13, at 9 a.m. with a women’s session for the 400 free, 200 individual medley and 50 free.