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Noblesville’s Luke Whitlock delivers on Olympic dream, qualifies for U.S. distance swim team

Luke Whitlock of Noblesville, Indiana, swims during a Men's 800 freestyle preliminary heat Monday, June 17, 2024, at the US Swimming Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. Whitlock made his Olympic dreams come true by qualifying for the U.S. distance swim team. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Three years ago, Luke Whitlock watched the Tokyo Olympics and dreamed of the day he could compete on the American team.

Now he’s being mentioned in the same sentences as Michael Phelps.

The 18-year-old soon-to-be college freshman at Florida became the youngest male swimmer to qualify for the U.S. Olympic swim team since 2000 by finishing second to two-time Olympic gold medalist Bobby Finke in the men’s 800-meter freestyle.

Finke, the defending Olympic champion in the event, finished in 7 minutes, 44.22 seconds. Whitlock was next at 7:45.19. He is the youngest American to make the team since Michael Phelps’ breakthrough moment at age 15. And that’s not all.

In his first U.S. Olympic Trials competition Saturday, Whitlock also broke Phelps’ age-group record for 17- and 18-year-olds by 0.31 seconds with a time of 3:46.55 in the 400 freestyle prelims.

“I’m having a good week so far, and I’m just trusting my training to kind of go out fast and hold on,” Whitlock said. “I’m not really sure how I split it (Tuesday), but I think I went out pretty aggressive and I’m hurting pretty bad, but it was worth it.”

Whitlock didn’t even appear to be out of breath Tuesday following the second-longest distance swim at this week’s nine-day meet in Indianapolis.

Instead, he sounded exhilarated by the swim and the results he produced just a short drive away from his home in Noblesville, Indiana, an Indy suburb.

He’s the second Indianapolis-area teenager to qualify for the U.S. men’s team this week, joining Aaron Shackell, who is from Carmel.

For Whitlock, it meant every bit as much as it did to Shackell to accomplish their greatest feats yet in front of their hometown fans — and inside the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts home stadium. Finke finished fourth in 400 while Whitlock was fifth.

On Tuesday, they again finished side by side — only this time as Olympic qualifiers. And Whitlock will get one more shot to make the team in this weekend’s grueling 1,500 freestyle before heading to Paris.

“It means everything,” Whitlock said. “I have a ton of family here cheering me on so I just wanted to do it for them and the crowd and everything. It’s nice. I don’t have to travel for trials and everything, so it’s awesome.”