Jake Johnson takes a breather in the pool after the men's 200m individual medley on Oct. 8, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - When U.S. swimmer Jake Johnson signed up to study Afrikaans at Harvard this autumn, he never expected to be testing his language skills so soon.
But the 18-year-old has been chatting away with his South Africa counterparts at the Youth Olympic Games, where he finished eighth in the 200m individual medley final at the Natatorium on Monday.
“I did my homework early for that class, and my teacher said, ‘While you’re (in Buenos Aires) I want you to have a conversation in Afrikaans every day.’ So during lunch I go and talk to the South Africa team,” he said.
“They were like, ‘Woah! An American is learning Afrikaans?’ I told them, ‘Yeah, it’s one of my favorite subjects.’ It’s really exciting and really fun. They think it’s so cool, too.”
Johnson was not sure how easy it would be to get excused for several weeks of study to compete at Buenos Aires 2018, but thrashed out a plan with his college swimming coach and teaching staff.
“To keep up with the academic prestige of a university such as Harvard, you can’t really take breaks on the academic side,” said Johnson, who plans to study electrical engineering. “But they made it super easy for me. I’ll have to do some homework between sessions, but other than that, I’m just really excited for the opportunity they allowed me to have.”
Rhyan White, who won bronze in the women’s 100m backstroke on Monday and is a freshman at Alabama, said her teachers were also very understanding about her missing several weeks of study to compete at the YOG.
“They expect me to do my work, but they were flexible with it," she said. "I’m going to have a lot of work to do when I get back.”
White said she kept her expectations in check going into the backstroke final: “I just went into this race wanting to do my best and I was going to be happy whether I got a medal or not. Obviously, it’s an honor to have a medal and represent USA. I’m also really excited to call my mom and tell her about it.”
Johnson added that putting on the United States swimming cap for the first time “meant the world” to him. “Our team goal is just to perform well, do what we can and to absorb the atmosphere,” he said. “This is preparation for the actual Olympics and you need experience for that kind of thing, so you don’t buckle under the pressure.”