Maxime holding his FINA World Junior Championships gold medal with dad Kennan and relative Annette Ompad Ycong in Singapore (photo courtesy of Maxime’s grandma, Mrs. Amy Radaza Jessup)
Though his family name sounds foreign, Maxime Rooney is half-Filipino. His father, Kennan Rooney, is pure Pinoy. Kennan’s mother is Radaza — she’s Mrs. Amy R. Jessup, the older sister of former congressman Arturo “Boy” Radaza.
Who is Maxime Rooney? Well, let’s just say that he broke two swimming world records this month. Yes, no mistyping there. Maxime broke the world junior record in the 200-meter freestyle. He clocked a super fast 1:47.10 time for the 200m. Then, while swimming in a relay team last Friday, he broke another junior world record with his three other teammates.
This performance is stunning because the South East Asian Games record in the same 200m distance is 1:47.79. This was achieved just last June by Singaporean Joseph Isaac Schooling.
What this means is, had Maxime joined the SEA Games and clocked the same time, he would have won gold and set the all time SEA Games record.
To add to Maxime’s record-shattering feat (he achieved this at the US Nationals last August 7), he joined the 2015 FINA World Junior Championships. This, too, was held in Singapore this week.
The result? The same medal color. Gold. Maxime defeated all the world’s best junior swimmers with a time of 1:47.78.
I talk about Maxime because I’m dreaming of him representing the Philippines all the way to the Olympics. Five years from now during the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Maxime will be 22 years old — the perfect age to medal in the Olympics.
But there’s a problem: Given how he’s performed and how he’s been developed and nurtured by Americans, it’s a long, long, long shot that he’ll switch nationalities and swim for us.
As far back as 2012, I wrote about Maxime. It was Lapu-Lapu City Councilor Harry Radaza, the uncle of Maxime, who first informed me about his celebrated nephew. The then 14-year-old Maxime was breaking age group records in California and in the entire America. Maybe, during that time when Maxime was not as popular and accomplished as he is now — maybe, the Philippines could have requested him to represent the Philippine flag. (Maxime is a dual citizen of both the U.S. and the Phils.)
But now, I believe it’s too late.
In that July 2012 article that I wrote, the piece was entitled, “The Michael Phelps of the Philippines?” That was three years ago when Maxime was still growing, physically and mentally. Now, he’s stronger, faster, bigger. He is, given the results, a potential “next Michael Phelps.” The problem is, I don’t think the country named “U.S.A.” will let go of someone they’ve cultivated and nourished.
Going back to the Olympics, next year it’s Brazil. I checked the qualifying time for the U.S. team and, if I read it correctly, it’s 1:51.89 — much slower than Maxime’s time. I checked further the Olympic Qualifying Time (OQT), the quota time to join the Olympics, and it’s 1:47.97.
Maxime’s 200m record-setting time of 1:47.10 qualifies him to join the Olympics. Amazing.
Studying the numbers further, if we look back and check the 2012 London Games winning times, the gold medalist (Yannick Angel of France) won with a time of 1:43.14. The eighth and final placer in the 200-meter Final clocked 1:47.75. This means that Maxime swam faster than one of the Olympic finalists. Amazing.
To add to his list of Phelps-like achievements, just last Friday at the 2015 FINA World Junior Championships in Singapore, he joined the US 4 x 200 relay of Team USA. The result: Gold. And another world junior record. According to the website www.swimswam.com, “Rooney’s excellent split actually would have made the U.S. relay at Worlds, a team that won silver. Rooney would have been the third-best split on that relay behind Ryan Lochte and Conor Dwyer.”
Imagine being mentioned in the same line as the great Ryan Lochte, someone who has amassed five Olympic gold medals, three silver and three bronze.
Maxime’s 200m relay time? It’s 1:46.55.
Incredible for one who’s only 17 years old.