Swimmers return with flying colors

Posted on Jul 04 2022

From left, Taiyu Akimaru, Maria Batallones, Jinie Thompson, and Juhn Tenorio pose for a group photo during the 2022 FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.(CONTRIBUTED PHOTO)

The CNMI National Swimming Team for the 2022 FINA World Championships returned from Budapest, Hungary last week with national coach Richard Sikkel congratulating Juhn Tenorio, Maria Batallones, Taiyu Akimaru, and Jinie Thompson for swimming their bests times in the international meet with Tenorio and Batallones also breaking a couple of records.

“I am pleased with the results of Team NMI at the World Championships in Budapest. Swimming alongside the likes of Caeleb Dressel, Katie Ledecky, Sarah Sjostrom, Kristof Milak, David Popovici, and Daiya Seto is equally inspiring as it is intimidating. In the midst of the enormous spectacle of the World Championships the four CNMI swimmers swam personal bests in each of their individual events.”

Having just joined the team from training in Japan, Sikkel said Tenorio managed to improve on his personal bests in the 50m and 100m backstroke with times of 1:00.93 50 and 28.18, respectively.

“Pending [Northern Mariana Islands Swimming Federation] ratification, both Juhn’s times would qualify as new national and 17-18 age group records,” he said.

Akimaru, the first NMI swimmer to take to the blocks in the Duna arena, started the team off with a great 50m butterfly, missing breaking the 15-16 age group record by a hair in 27.8. He also swam the 50m freestyle in 26.02

Batallones, the youngest member of the delegation, swam a very solid 100m breaststroke with a time of 1:26.01 and improved on her performance a few days later with a better 50m breaststroke.

In fact, Sikkel said Batallones’ 50m breaststroke bests Jennifer Pierce’s record from 1997 in the 13-14 age group by 400s of a second, setting the new time at 37.77 for the first time in 25 years.

Thompson, the last swimmer to dive into the Hungarian water, swam a good 100m freestyle, according to the national coach. She swam the event in 1.10.31 and completed the 50m freestyle in 31.36.

“Jinie and Taiyo both vastly improved on their times in the 50m free events in which they saw action a few days later,” said Sikkel.

Aside for the individual events, Team NMI also competed in the mixed medley relay beating out neighboring team Guam by clocking a new NMI record of 4:37.91. Tenorio, Batallones, Akimaru, and Thompson again bagged a new CNMI record in the 4x100m freestyle with a time of 4:12.95. Both records are pending NMISF ratification.

Sikkel said it wasn’t all work in the pool though for the CNMI National Swimming Team, as their stint in the 2022 FINA World Championship also included some sightseeing in the Hungarian capital.

“While swimming was the main purpose of the trip, the team managed to spend some time sightseeing around Budapest with coach Ally [Pourmonir], meet up with the other Oceania swimmers and officials, and share a lunch with FINA president Husain Al-Musallam and Ian Thorpe,” he said.

For Tenorio, presumably setting new age group and national records were already bonuses considering that just representing the CNMI in the World Championship and seeing world-class swimmers in the flesh was already a great honor.

“I recorded an age group record and my first national record! It was an amazing feeling watching my idols race right in front of me. I got to see how they prepare for their races and overcome the immense pressure,” he said.

Akimaru said it was really an amazing experience to take part in the World Championship in Budapest.

“I am grateful for being able to represent CNMI for the competition! This made me more into swimming! I was able to get PBs for both of my events. Looking at my swimming idols in TV and face-to-face is really different. They look a lot more bigger and faster face-to-face. I was happy to see many fast swimmers in the competition and I really think it was a great experience going to the World Championships,” he said.

Batallones, for her part, said the whole World Championship experience was all that she expected.

“I got to make a really strong bond with my team and we were able to meet other people from around the world. I really thank them (my team) for always being there for me. Even when we were at Budapest, training before the race, they helped prepare me. They helped me so much that I was able to update my PBs and get CNMI record for the 50m breaststroke.

Like Tenorio and Akimaru, she also got a kick from seeing the international swimmers she always looked up to.

“It was so cool seeing swimming idols. Usually, we would just watch them online, but watching them live was even better. We would be stretching or preparing for practice and an idol would just walk past us. Those, I will always remember and it will always amaze me. Hopefully in the future we get more opportunities like this because it was such a great experience and I would love to go back,” she said.

Thompson, meanwhile, said the World Championships served as a very big learning experience for her.

“I never previously competed in a World Championships before. Being surrounded by top athletes from around the world and seeing my idols was extremely special. I got the opportunity to take a quick picture with Katie Ledecky which was who I wanted to see the most. All my races were my personal best times. But I’m looking forward to breaking these times and I am committed to training toward whatever event we have in the near future,” she said.

Mark Rabago | Associate Editor
Mark Rabago is the Associate Editor of Saipan Tribune. Contact him at Mark_Rabago@saipantribune.com
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