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Gold medalist visits Barnesville | News, Sports, Jobs

BARNESVILLE — From small town, USA, to Olympic gold medalist, world champion and world record holder.

While it doesn’t happen often, it can and does happen.

Case in point is Dover native Hunter Armstrong.

The 21-year-old was at the Barnesville Memorial Park Pool Thursday to share his story and journey from relative swimming obscurity to bringing home a gold medal from Tokyo last summer in the 4×100 medley relay to his recent performance in the Swimming World Championships in Budapest where he captured five medals.

“I think I can definitely prove that it doesn’t matter where you’re from because if you want to achieve something, just keep working towards it,” Armstrong said. “I know it sounds simple, but it’s important to set goals to your dream because not every single person can be an Olympian, but there are plenty of other things that I want to accomplish. As cliche as it sounds, ‘Chase your dreams.’”

Ironically, swimming wasn’t always a dream for Armstrong. He grew up watching his brother, Jack, compete at a high level, placing in the OHSAA State Swimming Championships multiple times before going on to a solid career at West Virginia University. However, it wasn’t until his club team was going to a national meet in Fort Lauderdale when he became serious.

“I wanted a trip to Fort Lauderdale, so I asked the coach if I could go,” Armstrong said. “He said, ‘You can go when you start coming to practice every day.’ So, I started going every day, made the trip and ended up winning some events.”

At that point, swimming wasn’t just a recreational activity or a sport to pass time in the winter for Armstrong.

“It’s been a great journey that I’ve had a lot of fun with,” Armstrong said. “The minute it stops being fun, I’ll retire. I swim because I enjoy it.”

That trip to Fort Lauderdale helped pave the way for him to commit to WVU out of high school. However, due to wanting to be closer to home when COVID-19 hit, Armstrong transferred to Ohio State. He qualified for the Olympic Trials only to see the Olympic Games postponed a calendar year.

He got his chance last June in Omaha and earned a spot on Team USA in the backstroke. He wound up ninth in the 100-meter backstroke, narrowly missing a spot in the final. However, he was picked for the relay team, swam in the qualifying round, and Olympic rules say anyone who swims on the relay team — in any of the rounds — receives a medal.

At world trials, which were held in Greensboro, Armstrong set a world record in the 50-meter backstroke in 23.71 seconds, nine hundredths of a second faster than the previous mark.

In Budapest a couple of weeks ago, Armstrong finished second in the 50-meter backstroke to fellow American Justin Reiss. However, Reiss was disqualified and Armstrong received the gold medal. That was short-lived, however. Reiss’ disqualification was overturned in an appeal and Armstrong bumped down to the silver.

“Obviously, I want to be a gold medalist (individually), but (via disqualification) was not the way I would have wanted to (win) my first,” Armstrong said. “From the outside looking in, I would much rather have the United States prosper than my own individual success, so I will take the one-two for the US any day.”

All told, Armstrong won five medals in Hungary. He won gold with the 4–100 free relay and mixed medley; silver in the backstroke and 4–100 medley and bronze in the 100-meter backstroke.

“It was definitely an improvement from the Olympics, but, honestly, it wasn’t the meet that I had hoped for,” Armstrong said. “By breaking a world record in trials, I had my standards set pretty high. I thought I was going to have my break-out meet, internationally. No one won more than five medals, but some of them weren’t the color I wanted. It was a great stepping stone.”

Obviously, the last year has been a whirlwind — in and out of the pool — for Armstrong.

“It’s been an absolute 360 from my normal life,” Armstrong laughed. “I showed up almost a little over a year ago (at trials) hoping to make top six and ended up getting into the top two, making the Olympics and coming home with a gold medal. I remember asking my coach, ‘What’s next?’ because I had achieved everything that a swimmer could ask. He said a world record and now that’s happened, too.”

Armstrong, who was named Ohio State University’s Male Athlete of the Year last month, has turned professional.

Armstrong, who will be relocating to Berkeley, California, next month to resume his training at Cal, is making several appearances around the state. He will be appearing in Massillon later in the month.

“It’s about giving back to the community and it’s important that everyone gets to share in this journey with me,” Armstrong said.

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