Missoula Hellgate super swimmer Katharine Berkoff is now an American record holder — unofficially.
While competing at the U.S. Swimming National Championships in Indianapolis this week, Berkoff posted her age group's fastest race on record in the 50-meter backstroke. Her time of 28.66 seconds, which placed her eighth overall in a meet that features the best swimmers in the country regardless of age, appears to be the best ever for an American girl age 15 to 16.
"As far as we can tell," explained Dave Berkoff, Katharine's father and coach. "They don't keep formal records in the 50 like they do in the hundreds. ... This is the first year they've done the 50 as an individual race at a U.S. national meet."
USA Swimming's databases go back to 2000 for the event though.
It's the latest eye-popping performance for Berkoff, who this spring completed just her sophomore year at Hellgate. A year ago she competed in the Olympic Trials in both the 200 and 100 backstroke as a 15-year-old.
Now 16, she continues to march forward in continuing her family legacy. Her father Dave, the former Missoula Aquatic Club head coach, won Olympic gold swimming the backstroke leg of the United States' 400 medley relay team in both 1988 and 1992.
Along with her eighth-place finish in the 50 on Thursday, Berkoff also reached the finals of the 100 on Friday to take 20th with a time of 1:01.76. She was 34th on Wednesday in the 200 at 2:15.09.
Those were the same races in which Hellgate grad and current USC swimmer Hanni Leach competed. Leach, a rising junior for the Pac-12's Trojans, took 54th in the 50 (29.78), 55th in the 100 (1:03.19) and 78th in the 200 (2:19.16). Only 24 swimmers per event reach the finals after preliminaries, the qualifiers then spreading out across three final races.
Fellow MAC swimmer Adam Zimmer reached the finals in the 100 breaststroke. Zimmer, a recent graduate of Missoula Big Sky who will swim next year at Duke, took 24th in the race with a time of 1:04.11.
Zimmer also finished 42nd in the 50 breast (29.44) and 56th in the 200 breast (2:23.11).
Ethan Harder, a junior-to-be at Billings Senior, swam his way into the finals of the 200 backstroke as well. Racing for the Billings Aquatic Club, Harder posted a 2:01.99 to finish in 18th place overall. He was also 51st in the 50 backstroke (27.93) and 57th in the 100 back (58.43).