By Michele J. Kuhn
Fair Haven native Connor Jaeger will be swimming in his first Olympic race Friday, Aug. 3, and Two River area fans couldn’t be more excited.
Jaeger, 21, will be in the third of four heats for the 1,500-meter freestyle preliminary race, with the first heat scheduled to begin at 5:34 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The race finals are slated for 2:36 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4.
The borough is holding a viewing party for residents to come together to watch the preliminary heat at the London Olympics. The event will be held from 5 to 7 a.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Fair Haven Road. Attendees are asked to bring canned food to be donated to Lunch Break.
“I think everyone’s excited,” Mayor Benjamin Lucarelli said.
Televisions and laptops will be set up in the hall for people to watch the live stream of the event.
Jaeger, a Rumson-Fair Haven High School graduate, who is an engineering major at the University of Michigan, gained his place on the Olympic team during the trials in early July with a time of 14:52.51. It was only the fifth time he competed in the long-distance race.
Cathy Corcione of Red Bank is one of the many who couldn’t be happier for Jaeger.
“He’s the best,” said Corcione, who coached Jaeger when he was a youngster and a member of the Central Jersey Aquatic Club. “He’s just a really nice kid and has always been polite and respectful. He’s a good listener and a nice person. His family is the same way.”
Corcione, who is an Olympian herself having been part of the 1968 team in Mexico City, said knowing her former student is also an Olympian is “indescribable.” She has been surprised at the strength of her emotions about his achievement. “I feel as if it is one of my own children,” she said. She and others “aren’t surprised that he made the team but we are surprised how emotional and proud we are about it.”
The swim coach describes Jaeger as a “solid athlete, a good worker with realistic expectations. He’s a leader because he is such a hard worker.”
What does she expect of Jaeger’s efforts? “It’s the Olympics, anything can happen but I expect him to have a solid tough performance,” she said.
Jaeger began swimming for the Central Jersey Aquatic Club as an 8- or 9-year-old when he joined with his older sister. The club has produced five Olympians, beginning with Corcione. She feels her efforts coaching him has brought her experience “full circle.”
Corcione was just 15 when she made the Olympic team.
“I think the Olympic experience is more than just sport,” she said. “I think for me in 1968, a tumultuous year, it was the first time I was exposed to so many cultures at one time. It was the first time I was exposed to politics…The Soviet Union had just invaded Czechoslovakia and there was animosity in the Olympic Village … I think you learn what it means to be part of the world … When you have an international experience, it changes you.”
Corcione spoke to Jaegar on the phone recently. “He was very sweet and nice. He was talking about all the kids he knew as a 10-year-old on the team and how he still talks to them.”
While she watched the preliminaries of Jaeger’s Olympic trial race with a large group, including aquatic club team members, she watched the finals home alone. She expects to be watching the live stream of his race on Friday with just her family members. “I don’t want to jinx him” by holding a viewing party, she said.
Her grandchildren, however, will be proudly wearing their Connor Jaeger T-shirts.