SEQUIM — Molly and Bernie Christianson were happy to get up early and watch live coverage of the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The longtime Sequim residents joined other family members and friends spread across the country in rooting for 19-year-old Tyler Christianson, their grandson and son of Sequim High graduate Eric Christianson.
Tyler, a dual citizen of Panama and the Untied States, was one of 10 athletes competing for Panama at the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. He competed in the 200-meter breaststroke and 200 individual medley.
On July 27, Tyler raced to a heat victory in the 200 breaststroke with a 2:13.41 finish — more than two seconds better than his entry time — and led from the first turn on, finishing with the 29th-best time (the top 16 qualified for the semifinals).
A day later, he came back from a fifth-place spot after one turn to win his heat in the 200 IM, finishing in 2:02.70 — about a half-second better than his entry time — and wound up 40th overall.
“It just hit me; he’s among the best swimmers in the world,” Molly Christianson said last week, in between her grandson’s heats.
Molly and Bernie moved to Sequim in 1978.
“We thought it was the most beautiful place on earth (then) and we still think that,” Molly said.
Eric Christianson graduated from Sequim High in 1987 before attending West Point. He was an athlete but no swimmer, Molly said.
“He was not very good in the water at all,” Molly said of Eric, but he competed in football and wrestling.
After graduating from West Point, Eric Christianson worked for six years and six month in the service, stationed in Panama. There he met Emyeny, a native Panamanian.
Eric and the family moved across the United States as he held corporate jobs, Molly said, including those with Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati, Pacific Coast Feather Company in Seattle, Campbell Soup Company in Camden, N.J., Perdue Farms in Salisbury, Md., and most recently with Nutrient in Reno, Nev.
Tyler was born stateside, but he retains dual citizenship with the U.S. and his mother’s home country.
In interviews leading up to the Olympic Games, Tyler said he learned at age 8 to swim.
By the time high school ended he was a state champion in Maryland and began receiving offers for his athleticism, Molly said, fitting his exhausting sports schedule in with his involvement in school leadership (he was Student Government Association President at his high school in 2019-20).
Tyler chose Notre Dame, and in his first year took home the Fighting Irish’s Rookie of the Year award and was named a USA Swimming Scholastic All-American. He qualified for the NCAA championships and then added Olympic Games qualifier to his resume. He holds two Republic of Panama national records.
“I just really can’t wait because its going to be a blast to swim with the best athletes in the world and to represent my country, so that’s all I can really ask for,” Tyler said in an interview with WSBT TV in South Bend, Ind., last week.
“I never thought it would be possible, you know. You write it down as a little kid — I want to be an astronaut, NFL Football player, I want to go to the Olympics — I wrote down ‘I want to go to the Olympics’ and to see that sheet that I had made like 12 years ago in first grade and look back and see I really did it, it means a lot.”
Molly said the Panamanian athletes — there were 10 listed as competitors, compared to 613 for the U.S. — are treated like celebrities in their home country.
“(He’s) like a national hero over there,” Molly said. “(But) he is a true American in heart.”
Tyler swims for the Naval Academy Aquatic Club-Republic 1 club team, and is up and working out early thanks to help (and car rides) from Emyeny.
“She certainly had a large part to do with him getting his swimming career (going),” Molly said. “Parents have a lot to do with these athletes.”
No wonder, then, that Molly and Bernie were up at 3:31 a.m. one morning, cheering on Tyler from about 4,700 miles away.
“(We had) all of his brothers and sister are rooting for him, his friends rooting for him,”Molly said. “It’s been so much fun.”
Michael Dashiell is the editor of the Sequim Gazette of the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which also is composed of other Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News and Forks Forum. Reach him at editor@sequim gazette.com.