Regan Smith, who made one of the great leaps in global swimming in 2019, experienced a disparate 2020 with obstacles right through the holidays.
There was the Olympic postponement last March. Smith wasn’t alone in being impacted — 10,000 athletes compete at the Games across all sports, and more than 1,000 Americans are legitimate Olympic hopefuls.
Then Smith, who graduated virtually from high school in June after two months out of the pool, faced a more unique dilemma among the world’s best athletes during the pandemic.
She deferred enrollment at Stanford to stay at home in Minnesota. She’s on the first break from classwork of her life.
As 2021 approached, Smith adapted again.
The Olympic-size pool 40 minutes from her house was shut down for six weeks, including the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas. She had been training there twice a week, supplementing her practices in a smaller pool closer to home.
“It’s been really, really tough over quarantine to stay motivated,” Smith said after racing two events on the first day of USA Swimming’s Pro Series in San Antonio on Friday (weekend TV schedule here). “Very, very mentally difficult to make it through those six weeks.”
Smith, who broke the 100m and 200m backstroke world records at the 2019 World Championships, won the 100m butterfly and finished second in the 200m freestyle at her first meet of 2021.
The times were not her fastest (few top swimmers record personal bests in January), and the fields didn’t include the favorites for June’s Olympic Trials, where the top two per individual event qualify for Tokyo.
“We kind of shook the rust off a little bit today,” she said, noting she was “super stoked” with the freestyle and that butterfly — not backstroke — is her favorite stroke.
Her program this weekend — both backstrokes, both butterflies and the 200m free — leads one to wonder what events the versatile swimmer is considering for the trials.
This time last year, the plan was to race at least both backstrokes and the 200m fly (where she ranks second among Americans since the start of 2019). Smith is less established in the 100m fly and 200m free but still dangerous if she devotes focus to them.
Smith could add both events to her trials slate and still not have any more than two swims in a single session in Omaha.
Asked Friday night if she thought about what she wanted to swim at trials, Smith replied, “Not a ton.”
“Especially after the postponement I just kind of wanted to get my head away from that for a little while,” she said on Olympic Channel. “I’ve been having a blast training fly and free. I’m really excited about both of those events, so we’ll see.”
Smith is staying positive, cherishing the additional year she can spend with her family, boyfriend, coach Mike Parratto, swim team and dogs — Tasha, an American Eskimo and Jinger, a daisy.
“Definitely for like a week or two I kind of had some FOMO,” about not being at Stanford, she said. “College will come when it comes. Some day I’m going to have to move away from home and my family. I just want to enjoy it while I still can.”
Smith said that she transitioned “from kid to adult” in the sport in the last two years. She recalled her state of mind on New Year’s Day in 2020 and the prevalent place that the Olympics occupied.
“I think I was a lot more in my head about it last year, whereas this year we’ve all had plenty of time to get a grip on things mentally,” Smith said. “Instead of being worried about how quickly they’re coming up, I’m really just trying to be excited and be like it’s finally go-time and treat it like that instead of treating it like it’s some big scary thing, because it’s not. It should be exciting.”
In other potential Olympic Trials previews on Friday, Chase Kalisz beat training partner Jay Litherland in a showdown between the reigning Olympic and world silver medalists in the 400m individual medley. Kalisz clocked 4:17.26, beating Litherland by .98. Litherland still has the fastest time since the start of 2019 (4:09.22), followed by Charlie Swanson (4:11.46, but fourth on Friday) and Kalisz (4:13.07).
Nic Fink knocked off the U.S.’ first-, third- and fourth-fastest men in the 100m breaststroke since the start of 2019. Fink clocked 1:00.84, relegating Olympic silver medalist Cody Miller to second and top-ranked Andrew Wilson to sixth. Fink ranks seventh in the U.S. since the start of 2019.
University of Florida junior Kieran Smith, who is ranked third in the U.S. in the 200m free since the start of 2019, beat the only two men who have gone faster — Andrew Seliskar and Townley Haas.
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