Regan Smith, world’s best backstroker, takes flight in butterfly


Regan Smith broke both backstroke world records at age 17. Having just turned 19, she won the 100m butterfly at a Pro Series meet in San Antonio on Friday, three months before Olympic Trials.

Smith took the 100m fly in 57.88 seconds, pulling away from Kelsi Dahlia by six tenths of a second. Dahlia was the U.S.’ fastest woman in the 100m fly in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Smith isn’t yet committing to adding the 100m fly to her Olympic Trials slate. The 100m and 200m backs and the 200m fly have been her top events. She’s also ranked fourth in the nation in the 100m fly since the start of 2019.

On Friday, she beat two of the three swimmers ranked ahead of her, though two younger teens who aren’t in San Antonio, Claire Curzan and Torri Huske, have also emerged as contenders in the event.

“Strength [training] has put a lot into my improvement with butterfly,” Smith, who tied for 81st in the 100m fly at the 2016 Olympic Trials at age 14, said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA moments after Friday’s victory. “Back in 2016, I was barely doing any dryland or strength training. I definitely think it’s paid off.”

Smith could enter five events at trials — 100m back, 200m back, 100m fly, 200m fly and 200m freestyle — without having to swim more than twice in any single session in Omaha in June. She has the talent to make the Olympic team in the first four, plus potentially grab a top-six spot in the 200m free to make the 4x200m free relay.

“Definitely have to see [about the 100m fly] because it overlaps with the 100m back a little bit [at trials], but I love this race, I really do, so if we can find a way to make it work, then it’s something that I’d love to do at trials,” Smith said.

Earlier Friday, Smith took second in the 200m back to Kathleen Baker, the Olympic 100m back silver medalist. Baker swam 2:07.54, 1.26 seconds faster than the world-record holder.

Baker, the former 100m back world-record holder, is coming back from a rough 2019. In that year, she had pneumonia, broke a rib, suffered a herniated disk and was concussed.

Full meet results are here. The meet finishes Saturday with finals at 8 p.m. ET, live on Olympic Channel, and the NBC Sports app.

Also Friday, Katie Ledecky earned her third win in as many nights, taking the 200m free in 1:56.62. She prevailed by .86 over Katie McLaughlin, who ranks fourth among Americans since the start of 2019. The No. 2 American, national record holder Allison Schmitt, swam 2:00.32 in the B final. The No. 3 American, Simone Manuel, didn’t enter the event.

In March 2020, Ledecky won the 200m free at a Pro Series meet in Des Moines in 1:54.59, the fastest time in the world since the start of 2020.

“Some of the times haven’t been there this week,” Ledecky said on Olympic Channel, noting it’s her first time flying to a meet in one year. “I know I put up some good times over the past couple of months, so I feel good where I’m at.”

Andrew Seliskar, the top U.S. man in the 200m free since the start of 2019, took that event in 1:47.01. It marked the lone instance in 18 San Antonio finals that a swimmer has come within a half-second of a winning time from the March 2020 Pro Series meet in Des Moines. The top time last year was 1:46.91 (also by Seliskar).

Olympic champion Ryan Murphy won the men’s 200m back in 1:56.06. Murphy’s expected top challengers at trials, including Austin KatzShaine Casas and Jacob Pebley, weren’t in the field.

Chase Kalisz won a battle between the two 2016 U.S. Olympians in the 400m individual medley in 4:16.53. Kalisz, the Olympic silver medalist, remains ranked third in the nation since the start of 2019, but he defeated No. 1 Jay Litherland, the world silver medalist, on Friday.

Melanie Margalis backed up her No. 1 U.S. ranking in the 400m IM, prevailing in 4:37.81. She distanced a field that included the second-ranked American in the event, Emma Weyant, who placed third, 1.37 seconds behind.

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U.S. women’s rugby team qualifies for 2024 Paris Olympics as medal contender

Cheta Emba

The U.S. women’s rugby team qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics by clinching a top-four finish in this season’s World Series.

Since rugby was re-added to the Olympics in 2016, the U.S. men’s and women’s teams finished fifth, sixth, sixth and ninth at the Games.

The U.S. women are having their best season since 2018-19, finishing second or third in all five World Series stops so far and ranking behind only New Zealand and Australia, the winners of the first two Olympic women’s rugby sevens tournaments.

The U.S. also finished fourth at last September’s World Cup.

Three months after the Tokyo Games, Emilie Bydwell was announced as the new U.S. head coach, succeeding Olympic coach Chris Brown.

Soon after, Tokyo Olympic co-captain Abby Gustaitis was cut from the team.

Jaz Gray, who led the team in scoring last season and at the World Cup, missed the last three World Series stops after an injury.

The U.S. men are ranked ninth in this season’s World Series and will likely need to win either a North American Olympic qualifier this summer or a last-chance global qualifier in June 2024 to make it to Paris.

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Oscar Pistorius denied parole, hasn’t served enough time

Oscar Pistorius
File photo

Olympic and Paralympic runner Oscar Pistorius was denied parole Friday and will have to stay in prison for at least another year and four months after it was decided that he had not served the “minimum detention period” required to be released following his murder conviction for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp 10 years ago.

The parole board ruled that Pistorius would only be able to apply again in August 2024, South Africa’s Department of Corrections said in a short, two-paragraph statement. It was released soon after a parole hearing at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre prison where Pistorius is being held.

The board cited a new clarification on Pistorius’ sentence that was issued by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal just three days before the hearing, according to the statement. Still, legal experts criticized authorities’ decision to go ahead with the hearing when Pistorius was not eligible.

Reeva Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, are “relieved” with the decision to keep Pistorius in prison but are not celebrating it, their lawyer told The Associated Press.

“They can’t celebrate because there are no winners in this situation. They lost a daughter and South Africa lost a hero,” lawyer Tania Koen said, referring to the dramatic fall from grace of Pistorius, once a world-famous and highly-admired athlete.

The decision and reasoning to deny parole was a surprise but there has been legal wrangling over when Pistorius should be eligible for parole because of the series of appeals in his case. He was initially convicted of culpable homicide, a charge comparable to manslaughter, in 2014 but the case went through a number of appeals before Pistorius was finally sentenced to 13 years and five months in prison for murder in 2017.

Serious offenders must serve at least half their sentence to be eligible for parole in South Africa. Pistorius’ lawyers had previously gone to court to argue that he was eligible because he had served the required portion if they also counted periods served in jail from late 2014 following his culpable homicide conviction.

The lawyer handling Pistorius’ parole application did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

June Steenkamp attended Pistorius’ hearing inside the prison complex to oppose his parole. The parents have said they still do not believe Pistorius’ account of their daughter’s killing and wanted him to stay in jail.

Pistorius, who is now 36, has always claimed he killed Steenkamp, a 29-year-old model and law student, in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 after mistaking her for a dangerous intruder in his home. He shot four times with his licensed 9 mm pistol through a closed toilet cubicle door in his bathroom, where Steenkamp was, hitting her multiple times. Pistorius claimed he didn’t realize his girlfriend had got out of bed and gone to the bathroom.

The Steenkamps say they still think he is lying and killed her intentionally after a late-night argument.

Lawyer Koen had struck a more critical tone when addressing reporters outside the prison before the hearing, saying the Steenkamps believed Pistorius could not be considered to be rehabilitated “unless he comes clean” over the killing.

“He’s the killer of their daughter. For them, it’s a life sentence,” Koen said before the hearing.

June Steenkamp had sat grim-faced in the back seat of a car nearby while Koen spoke to reporters outside the prison gates ahead of the hearing. June Steenkamp and Koen were then driven into the prison in a Department of Corrections vehicle. June Steenkamp made her submission to the parole board in a separate room to Pistorius and did not come face-to-face with her daughter’s killer, Koen said.

Barry Steenkamp did not travel for the hearing because of poor health but a family friend read out a statement to the parole board on his behalf, the parents’ lawyer said.

Pistorius was once hailed as an inspirational figure for overcoming the adversity of his disability, before his murder trial and sensational downfall captivated the world.

Pistorius’s lower legs were amputated when he was a baby because of a congenital condition and he walks with prosthetics. He went on to become a double-amputee runner and multiple Paralympic champion who made history by competing against able-bodied athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, running on specially designed carbon-fiber blades.

Pistorius’ conviction eventually led to him being sent to the Kgosi Mampuru II maximum security prison, one of South Africa’s most notorious. He was moved to the Atteridgeville prison in 2016 because that facility is better suited to disabled prisoners.

There have only been glimpses of his life in prison, with reports claiming he had at one point grown a beard, gained weight and taken up smoking and was unrecognizable from the elite athlete he once was.

He has spent much of his time working in an area of the prison grounds where vegetables are grown, sometimes driving a tractor, and has reportedly been running bible classes for other inmates.

Pistorius’ father, Henke Pistorius, told the Pretoria News newspaper before the hearing that his family hoped he would be home soon.

“Deep down, we believe he will be home soon,” Henke Pistorius said, “but until the parole board has spoken the word, I don’t want to get my hopes up.”

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