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 still think that,” Molly said.
Eric graduated from Sequim High in 1987 before attending West Point. Eric was an athlete but no swimmer, Molly said.
“He was not very good in the water at all,” Molly said of Eric, but was athletic and 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, New Jersey, 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, Indiana, 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 last week, 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.”
Sequim’s Olympic Games traditions
This year’s Summer Games in Tokyo marks 37 years since Sequim’s own Matt Dryke took home Olympic gold in skeet shooting.
Born Aug. 21, 1958, in Port Angeles, Dryke was a two-time world champion (1983, 1986) and was just 25 years old when he set a then Olympic record with 198 points to earn the gold medal in mixed skeet shooting in 1984 in Los Angeles. (See a video of Dryke’s winning effort at youtube.com/watch?v=CggJ__gJDIM).
Ole Rasmussen of Denmark (196 points, took silver in a shoot-off) and Luca Rossi of Italy (196) placed second and third.
Dryke placed 24th in the 1988 Olympic Games in South Korea and was a finalist at the 1992 games in Spain, placing sixth overall, just two points back of the gold medal winner.
He shot with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit from 1978-87. At the Pan American Games, he won gold medals in 1983 and 1987 and a silver medal in 1979. He was gold medalist at the Championships of the Americas in 1981 and 1985.
Dryke learned shooting at his father’s range, Sunnydell Shooting Grounds in Sequim. Chuck Dryke started it as a place to train hunting dogs but later converted it to a trap, skeet and shooting clay range.
Matt Dryke lives with his family,wife Yvonne and daughter Ellen, in Sequim.
The stories history of the University of Washington’s gold medal-winning men’s crew team at the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany has Sequim roots. Former Sequim resident Joe Rantz spent much of his formative years on the Olympic Peni9nsula before finishing his high school career in Seattle and joining UW’s heralded rowing program.
Rantz’s exploits have been detailed in the New York Times list best-selling book “The Boys In the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown.
Rantz went on to a successful professional career as a chemical engineer at Boeing. He died in September 2007 at the age of 93.
In October 2018, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) and Lantern Entertainment announced they are partnering to develop, finance, produce and distribute a film based on “Boys in the Boat.”
In 1988, Sequim’s Kelly Yarnes earned a gold medal for her softball throw in the 1988 International German American Special Olympics, along with a silver medal in the long jump and a bronze for her 50-yard dash.