“I want people to walk out the door [on Saturday] and think ‘He’s the real deal,’” said Conger, 18, who in six previous Metros appearances has set six meet records. “I want people to think ‘He’s a contender for the Olympic team in 2016,’ that I’m serious about what I do, and that, maybe, I’m one of the best high school swimmers that ever swam.”
Conger will first take aim at the 500-yard freestyle record, the oldest in the books, set 30 years ago by two-time Olympian Jeff Kostoff. A year ago at Metros, Conger missed the mark by 1.12 seconds, the third-fastest time ever by a high school swimmer.
Next he will chase the 100 backstroke mark set in November by his rival, Ryan Murphy of Florida, with whom he has traded national age group records the past four years. Like Conger, Murphy is widely considered a cornerstone in the future of American swimming. If Conger can break both Saturday, he would stand alone on top.
Last Saturday at the Washington Metropolitan Prep School Swim and Dive League championship meet, Conger fell short in the 100 butterfly after misjudging his finish, taking an extra stroke at the last moment instead of kicking into the finish. It cost him the national high school record by two-tenths of a second.
“I looked up at the clock and I was filled with disappointment,” Conger said. “I knew that was my last shot at that record. I know I’ll do more 100 flys, just not in high school.”
Where others may have been rattled by such a narrow miss, Conger learned from the experience — like he did after last year’s 500 free finish — and added it to a long list of highs and lows that contribute to what his coach, Sue Chen, calls “the process.”
“He didn’t love the process when he came in, he just loved the results,” Chen said. “He came in like any other ninth grader thinking he was good. And he was, because he was 6-2, which allowed him to be really good without putting the process together. And then he just made a decision after he had a poor performance at nationals [in 2010] to be the best.”
The catalyst for that decision was a talk with three-time Olympian Aaron Peirsol on deck at the USA Swimming National Championships in August 2010 — a casual introduction that has led to a special ongoing relationship between Conger and Peirsol. “I saw a lot of myself in Jack,” Peirsol said. “He really cared. He takes the sport seriously. It means something to him.”