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Making history: Jones senior Jaden Olson is the Public League’s first boys state champion swimmer in 68 years

Jaden Olson didn’t look at the scoreboard after swimming the 100-yard backstroke at the boys state finals last month.

Jones/Payton co-op’s Jaden Olson (shown with coach Paul Anderson) became the first Public League swimmer to win state in 68 years when he took first in the 100-yard backstroke this year.
Jones/Payton co-op’s Jaden Olson (shown with coach Paul Anderson) became the first Public League swimmer to win state in 68 years when he took first in the 100-yard backstroke this year.
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Jaden Olson didn’t look at the scoreboard after swimming the 100-yard backstroke at the boys state finals last month.

He didn’t have to.

“As soon as I finished, I heard my coach scream,” said Olson, a Jones senior who competes for the Jones/Payton co-op. “He was really loud.

“He wouldn’t have screamed like that if I got second.”

Olson won in 49.29 seconds, becoming the Public League’s first state champ in boys swimming in 68 years.

Harrison’s John Moskiewicz’s sweep of the 50 and 100 freestyle races in 1952 marked the city’s last swim title. Its last champ at the meet was Vocational diver Arthur Hill in 1981.

Olson’s championship capped a journey that began when he was a first grader in the Sheridan Park program on the Near West Side. It started at the urging of his mom, who merely wanted him to learn to swim.

But Olson’s competitive nature took over. He started racing in the Chicago Park District before moving on to the Chicago Wolfpack club team, where one of his coaches was Paul Anderson.

Olson won an age-group state title as a 14-year-old, but didn’t swim for Jones/Payton as a freshman. That changed the next year, when Anderson — who had been coaching at Addison Trail — took over the coop team.

Olson was 11th at state in the backstroke as a sophomore, and he and Anderson had big dreams last season.

But they had to be put on hold.

“The week of sectional, he caught the flu really bad,” Anderson said. “He missed the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday (workouts) leading up to the sectional. He had a 102 (degree) fever.”

But Olson still qualified for state, taking sixth in the backstroke and 10th in the 100 butterfly.

“I thought he could have won it last year but he didn’t have his legs,” Anderson said.

All along though, Anderson didn’t burden Olson with any talk of the Public League’s decades-long state drought.

“I had no idea till after I won,” Olson said. “I think he wanted me to focus and not put too many thoughts in my head.”

Since his milestone race, though, both Olson and Anderson have had time to process this historic achievement.

“People have been waiting for the city to break through,” Anderson said. “A lot of credit to club swimming, which has been able to develop those kids from 8, 9, 11, 12 years old.

“Jaden is the culmination of all those swimmers who have been putting Chicago on the map.”

Olson takes a measure of satisfaction in having upended expectations for city kids.

“Going to the state meet, you see a bunch of suburban schools,” he said. “When I talk to the other competitors, they don’t know what Jones/Payton is. I was kind of a dark horse.”

Now Olson is looking ahead to his college career at Penn — and more. A dual citizen of the United States and the Philippines, he represented the latter in the Southeast Asian Games last November. That taste of international competition whetted his appetite for more.

“There were a lot of older guys there,” said Olson, who turned 18 in February. “They were really good, to (help) gauge where I was at.”

Olson could make the Philippine Olympic team for Tokyo this summer — assuming the Games aren’t canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus — if he makes the cut time and is ranked in the top two in his country. But his eyes are on the long term.

“The real goal is 2024,” he said.

If Olson gets to Paris in four years, expect even more screaming.