ROSWELL, Ga. — With more than 40 state team championship banners hanging in its gym, Blessed Trinity has proven to be one of Georgia’s top athletic programs over the past 20 years. But it was not until senior Dillon Downing stood atop the podium twice at the GHSA Swim and Dive State Championships Feb. 9 that the school captured its first boys swimming individual state title.
Downing raced his way to the title in 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard freestyle and set the fastest times of all classifications in both events. His time of 19.73 seconds in the 50-yard event was just 0.1 second behind the state record and was the 38th-quickest time nationally for high school swimmers, according to USA Swimming.
Even more impressive, Downing has only been swimming full time for two years.
Downing swam during elementary school but said he did not enjoy it and quit. While running cross country with the Titans his freshman year, he decided to give swimming another try that winter.
“Dillon was a very good swimmer his freshman year, but in his sophomore year, he had some tremendous time drops and placed fourth at the state meet in the 50-free and sixth in the 100-free,” BT swim coach Chuck Oliver said. “He beat many swimmers who are training year round and were getting looks from colleges. To be swimming the times he was while only committed to swimming for a few months out of the year showed me how much upside potential he probably had.”
Oliver suggested a year-round regimen, and Downing took the dive, splitting his time with coach Andy Griffin at Swim Atlanta and Oliver with BT.
“I was definitely weaker than I wanted to be going from cross-country, but the endurance aspect helped a lot,” Downing said. “I was able to put in laps and not feel so drained. And since, my start and turns have gotten much better.”
While his cross country days saw Downing competing over long distances, he was drawn to the sprint races of the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events.
“I like how fast it is,” he said. “It focuses on strength. The other strokes require a lot of technique, and freestyle does as well, but it’s a lot of strength.”
The senior said he was surprised at how well he did at the 2019 state meet and was thankful for his coaches, Oliver and Griffin.
“They both said they love working with me and watching me progress,” Downing said. “Obviously the work they put in to help me get better paid off.”
Downing not only caught the eyes of his coaches and competitors, he impressed college recruiters. The new state champion accepted a scholarship offer from UGA where he will continue his swim and academic career.
“Honestly, the whole process was a surprise for me since I only recently started to swim,” Downing said. “I didn’t expect to be recruited.”
Downing said he is excited for the opportunity to join the Bulldogs and believes he will be able to contribute to the sprint program as a freshman.
“I feel like UGA is getting a diamond in the rough as Dillon’s upside is just now beginning to scratch the surface,” Oliver said. “Dillon’s body is in great shape, and mentally he is hungry. I expect him to add strength in college as his body can handle it. I fully expect to see Dillon in the 2024 Olympics if not the 2020 Olympics.”
Downing has set high goals for himself at UGA, where he aims to set the school record in the 50-yard freestyle and earn a spot in the NCAA finals.
“I’m still fairly new, and I want to see how far I can go,” he said.