(Posted May 19, 2021)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
Eli Stoll, a 17-year-old from Plain City, has accomplished something few other boys his age have–qualification to the Olympic Trials in swimming. And by all accounts, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
Stoll’s specialty is the 100-meter backstroke. Many times this season, he came close to meeting or beating the qualifying standard of 56.59 seconds. At the U.S. Open in Indianapolis, his first competitive swim in about a year due to COVID-19, he missed the cutoff by just 0.13 seconds. He made several more attempts at subsequent meets, each time coming up short–until the weekend of April 30-May 2.
The Jonathan Alder sophomore and member of the Great Columbus Swim Team of Ohio (GCSTO) qualified to compete at the TYR 18-U Spring Cup in Richmond, Va., that weekend. When his race time didn’t meet the Olympic Trials cutoff, he swam the 100 meters a second time as a solo time trial–and he crushed it with a 55.89.
“There was a lot of crying that day,” said Stoll, who included himself in the mix of those who were joyfully tearful, along with his coach, teammates and parents. “I know how much time I put into it. Every time, I was getting closer and closer but still not getting it. That’s when you have to say to yourself, ‘I’m not going to give up,’ and just keep going.”
Stoll has been going at the sport of swimming since he was 6 years old and has dreamed of making the Olympic Trials since he was 8. For the past six years, he has trained with GCSTO six days a week, year-round with few breaks. He also competes on Jonathan Alder High School’s swim team.
On June 13, he will travel to Omaha, Neb., where on June 17 he will have one shot to qualify for the U.S. Olympic swim team. The team only takes two swimmers per event to the Olympics. This year’s Summer Games are scheduled for July 23-Aug. 8 in Tokyo, Japan.
Chris Binting, Stoll’s GCSTO coach, has set only one expectation.
“I told Eli, ‘I want you to enjoy the experience. Let’s recognize the accomplishment and enjoy the moment,’ ” he said.
Binting has watched and been a part of Stoll’s progress over the past five years.
“He’s always had that fire and work ethic. He always wants to give it his best,” he said. “When he was younger, it was about muscling through things and going as hard as he could all the time. Now that he is older, he is understanding more about strategy and refining his technique–but at the same time has kept that fire… He’s really putting it all together really well.”
The mental maturity and dedication could be what put Stoll into a rare category–a male swimmer under the age of 18 making the Olympic Trials.
“The Olympic Trials cut, especially for men, you really see it geared to college swimmers and even beyond,” Binting said, explaining that men get stronger later. “So, for a sophomore at 17 to make this cut is really quite an accomplishment.”
Stoll is the first athlete with whom Binting has worked directly who has made it to the Olympic Trials. He is the only athlete currently in the GCSTO program who made the cut this year.
Leading up to the trials, Stoll will train hard for a week or two to maintain his conditioning, then spend 10 days tapering–giving his body a rest and concentrating instead on the small things–a good strong start, really fast turns, and a hard finish.
“We’re going into this meet not really too concerned about time. We just know we want to race as hard as we can, see what happens and enjoy the experience,” Binting said.
Stoll has all sorts of people cheering for him.
“My mom and dad have always been there for me, driving me everywhere just so I could swim,” he said. “There’s been times when I was down and would think, ‘Do I even want to do this anymore,’ but then they kept me up and kept me going.”
Dawn and Gary Stoll couldn’t be prouder of their son.
“It’s amazing to see where he started and where he is now,” Dawn said. “At an early age, he loved the sport and always wanted to improve and do well. It is great to see that all his hard work has paid off.”
“It is amazing that at age 8, his goal in the future was to make the Olympic Trials. It’s so incredible that he has finally achieved it,” Gary said.
Stoll is appreciative of the support from his coaches and teammates, too.
“They’ve always been by my side in this journey, and now we’re here,” he said.
When asked how his teammates responded to the qualifying run, Stoll said, “They were just super proud of me. They are like family to me, both my high school team and my GCSTO team. We’re all there for each other. It’s way more than swimming; it goes into friendships for life.”
Katie Bumgarner, Jonathan Alder’s swim coach, said she and the high school team are grateful to be a small part of Stoll’s swimming career and even more grateful just to know him as an extremely decent human being.
“He’s such a good kid. He’s quiet, he’s humble, he works hard,” she said. “He’s the first one to get out of the water after breaking records and congratulate everyone he swam against. On top of talent, that’s what is so important… Awards and records are great, but people remember you by how you act.”
Binting couldn’t agree more.
“Eli is the consummate teammate. He does a great job of supporting, encouraging, cheering and just trying to get the best out of his teammates that he can,” he said. “He’s also a great sportsman. He’s the first to wish his competitors good luck or say, ‘Good job.’ He’s very focused on his own goals but he wants to see others succeed, as well. That’s going to carry him far in life.”