James Tao’s lightning fast swim ends with new Cherry Bowl record

Tao won the boys 12-and-under 100-meter individual medley for the second straight year at Cherry Bowl last Saturday, breaking the event’s 22-year-old meet record with a time of 1:07.71.

As an 11-year-old, Old Orchard Swim Club’s James Tao swam past the competition to win the boys 12-and-under 100-meter individual medley at the 2016 Cherry Bowl with a time of 1:14.04. As one of the youngest swimmers in the event, Tao was thrilled to win the race.

He also knew he could set a much faster time the next year.

In the second event of the 2017 Cherry Bowl, Tao put on a dominating performance. He won boys 12-and-under 100-meter individual medley for the second straight year, blowing away the competition with a time of 1:07.71. His time set a new Cherry Bowl record, breaking the mark of 1:08.27 set by Jeff Hoh of Cherry Valley Swim Club in 1995.

“This year, I was looking forward to it,” Tao said about the event. “I wasn’t really worried about winning. I was just wanting to get that record.”

In the 100-meter individual medley, competitors must swim one leg each of all four swimming strokes: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle. Tao began swimming the individual medley at the age of 9 and began to have seconds off his times in all four strokes over the next few years.

In 2016, Tao had a breakout season. He ranked in the top 10 in the Tri-County Swimming Pool Association’s 11- and 12-year-old divisions in the 50-meter backstroke, 50-meter breaststroke and 100-meter individual medley. Breaststroke is the part of the individual medley where Tao is his fastest.

“A lot of guys, they aren’t good in breaststroke,” he said. “Some races will come down to neck-in-neck, and when you hit the breaststroke, you just pull ahead and win.”

Tao identified butterfly as the stroke he has had to work hardest on. However, he has made huge improvements in the event. Tao has the third fastest time in TCSPA in the 11–12 boys 50-meter butterfly this season. His mark of 0:31.70 is more than three seconds faster than his best time from 2016.

Tao was a heavy favorite entering the event. Coming into Cherry Bowl, his best time this summer was a 1:09.15 he swam during Old Orchard’s dual meet against Sunnybrook Swim Club on June 24. Only four other swimmers have come within five seconds of Tao’s time in the TCSPA.

Tao knew he’d have to shave about a second off his season-best time to set the Cherry Bowl record, but he was confident he could do it.

“Coming in, everyone was like ‘You’re going to get that record,’” Tao said. “I just knew I was going to get it.”

Tao had to make his record Cherry Bowl run in unseasonably chilly conditions. A light rain fell during his event, and with air temperatures sitting around 70 degrees, Tao admitted he was a little cold walking out to the pool. However, he said the water temperature was comfortable and the pool was fast during the early part of the day.

“It was kind of cold walking out on the deck,” he said. “But the pool is nice. That helped a little bit.”

Halfway through the race, Tao was well ahead of the competition, and the event became about Tao’s race against the clock. With an extra burst at the end of his freestyle leg, Tao was able to tap the wall to break the record by a little more than a half a second. Tao was well ahead of his opponents, finishing more than 12 seconds ahead of second place Benjamin Turley of Covered Bridge Swim Club.

“Once I hit the wall and I looked up at the scoreboard and I saw 1:07, I was so excited,” Tao said. “It was amazing.”