Swimmer Leah Smith was a favorite to return to the Olympic stage for much of the past five years, but the 26-year-old was unable to pull out the swims she needed this week in Omaha. Smith missed the 800m freestyle final in Friday’s heats, her final opportunity to make the team.
Smith won the 400m freestyle bronze at her debut in Rio, which was won by countrywoman Katie Ledecky, and then continued to lead the way domestically and internationally in distance freestyle races with Ledecky.
While Ledecky has already made the Tokyo team in three individual events and is on track to qualify in the 800m free as well, Smith came up short in all four of her events.
In the 400m IM, her first final of the week on Sunday, Smith placed fourth and missed the likely two Olympic spots up for grabs by a narrow 0.59 seconds.
Since Rio, Smith had taken silver at the 2017 Worlds and bronze at the 2019 Worlds in the 400m free. She was No. 2 to Ledecky in the U.S. every year from 2014-19 and entered Trials seeded as such. But in Monday’s final, Smith was third behind Ledecky and Paige Madden and missed the team by 1.41 seconds in a race lasting over 4 minutes.
Fastest in the 200m free preliminary round, Smith was then eighth fastest in both the semifinal and Wednesday’s final. Being top six would have given her a chance at being named to the 4x200m free relay team, with which she won Olympic gold in 2016 and the 2015 and 2017 World titles.
She was seeded eighth in the 1500m free but did not compete. The newest event to the Olympic program, the 1500m was held in the same sessions as the 200m at Trials.
Smith’s last chance at Tokyo began Friday in the 800m heats, where the top eight would advance to Saturday’s final. She claimed bronze at this distance in the 2017 Worlds and was fifth in 2019, and was again seeded second behind Ledecky, but finished 10th in the Trials heats, 4.37 seconds short of the final.
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