Long Reach Swim Club’s Olivia Harper, left, and James Wells pose before practice at the Bath Area Family YMCA as they prepare for the 2019 Toyota U.S. Open Championships in Atlanta from today through Saturday. (Eric Maxim / The Times Record)

BATH — Long Reach Swim Club swimmers James Wells and Olivia Harper are both competing at the 2019 Toyota U.S. Open

Swimming Championships, set to begin today at the McAuley Aquatic Center on the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta.

The event runs through Saturday.

The meet includes some of the nation’s top swimmers, including several Olympians. According to USA Swimming’s website, 59 national team swimmers and over 1,000 athletes overall are competing in the U.S. Open, the second largest number of swimmers overall to compete in one meet in December in the past decade.

Athletes qualify by tying or beating the qualifying time in each event in a USA Swimming-sanctioned meet from the past year. It’s considered a top meet and will give athletes the chance to build on their momentum and improve their times ahead of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in swimming, which takes place June 21-28 in Omaha, Nebraska. Those competing in Atlanta will have a chance to punch their tickets to Omaha for a shot at making Team USA’s roster for the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.

“This meet will have every swimmer that will likely make up the 2020 U.S. Olympic team and will include some of the international swimming communities best swimmers so the competition will mirror the Olympics,” LRSC coach Jay Morissette said. “Both swimmers will use this meet to gauge where they are as they head toward the Olympic Trials meet.”

Wells, a 2010 Morse graduate and four-year standout at Indiana University, qualified in the 100 and 200 backstroke, 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly this past summer. This won’t be the first time Wells has competed on the big stage. The Phippsburg resident has competed in the last two Olympic time trials and has already qualified to swim in Omaha next June in the 100 backstroke.

In the years after graduating from Indiana, Wells swam with the Badger Swim Club in New York as well as spending some time in Washington, D.C., before returning back to Maine in 2016 to work with Morissette and LRSC coach Brian “Sponge” Savage.

“I came back and started working with Jay and Sponge and the swimmers at the Y. I also began to get back into shape by working with them,” Wells, who has been swimming since the age of 6 and has competed with LRSC since he was 10-years old, said. “I’d work in the pool in the afternoon at 2 o’clock then go to work at Bath Iron Works at 5 (p.m.) until 1 in the morning.”

“Having him come back has been incredible,” Savage said. “He’s working with all of the swimmers, but he has been a huge influence on Olivia.”

Harper, who has committed to swim at the University of Tennessee next fall, has welcomed the additional coach and training partner.

“I’ve been able to work with him since he’s come back,” Harper said. “It’s been good to get a swimmer’s perspective. Knowing everything he’s accomplished as a swimmer has helped me prepare. We’ve been training harder than ever. He has pushed me more than just me pushing myself. We train six days a week with a good dry land (weight training) program.”

“Sponge and James have worked very hard this season, developing a comprehensive training program and schedule, ” Morissette said. “James and Olivia have been spot on with the targets they are pointing toward with their training.  They have also worked out a progressive dry land program and it all went as planned.  They have been on this training cycle since August and are we are all excited to see their results. Both are swimming at career best times levels in practice to we are optimistic”

Wells sees Harper as a swimmer similar to himself.

“It’s like training myself,” Wells said about training with Harper. “She has a lot of energy with a lot of experience. It’s interesting to see her train and be able to make suggestions to her so she doesn’t make some of the same mistakes I’ve made.”

Harper, who has competed in state, YMCA, regional and national events, qualified in the 100 and 200 backstroke, 200 individual medley and 50 freestyle, in this being her biggest competition to date.

“I’ve swam in senior nationals, but never quite so big,” the Morse senior, who is focusing on her training these last two weeks and has not been practicing with the high school swim team, said. “I’m excited to go and swim with so many different swimmers at such a high level and take in the experience with James. I will look to get experience before the Olympic Trials, hoping to get a good time along the way.”

“This is a dry run before the Olympic Trials.” Wells said. “We will go through this tournament the exact way we will in the trials.”

“They will have a schedule very similar to what it will be like for the Olympic Trials,” Savage said. “They will do everything the same — food, sleep, warming up, warming down, stretch, nap — it’s a full-on big deal.

“It’s rare to see two swimmers from Bath, Maine, compete in the Olympic Trials.”

As for this week’s U.S. Open, fans can follow Wells’ and Harper’s progress by following the event links at www.usaswimming.org.

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