World backstroke record holder wins butterfly race at U.S. meet
Regan Smith returned to Minnesota as owner or part-owner of three world swimming records, two of which wouldn’t have happened if not for a change of heart by Team USA coaches.
Smith, the Lakeville North High School senior to be, wasn’t penciled in on the U.S. team for the women’s 400-meter medley relay at the world championships in South Korea. But her victory – and world record – in the 200 backstroke forced the U.S. coaches’ hands, and they put her on the relay.
She swam the backstroke leg of the July 28 relay in 57.57 seconds, which broke the previous world 100 backstroke record of 58.00. The relay went on to win in a world-record time of 3 minutes, 50.40 seconds.
That was, of course, to go along with Smith’s world record of 2:03.55 on July 26 in the 200 backstroke semifinals. Smith won the final the next day in 2:03.69.
“I wasn’t originally going to be on the medley relay. It ended up depending on my performance in the 200 back and it also just depended on what the coaching staff felt would be best for Team USA,” Smith said via email from Stanford, California, where she competed last week in the U.S. championships. “I was told I would be on the relay after the 200 back finals on Saturday night and it was a very surreal feeling. I’m very happy that I got the opportunity to be a part of that relay, but I would have also supported any other decision made by our coaching staff 100 percent.”
Her time in the backstroke semifinals was three seconds under her lifetime best going into 2019. She already held the ninth-fastest time ever in the 200 backstroke going into the world championships, and broke her own world junior record in the preliminaries.
When she finished her swim in the semifinals and saw her time on the scoreboard, photographers captured the look of amazement on Smith’s face and transmitted those pictures around the world.
It wasn’t an act, Smith said.
“I was very confident in the training that I had done this season, but I still didn’t think that world record would ever be in my realm of possibility,” she said.
Smith, who competes for the Riptide club in Apple Valley, did not swim any backstroke races at the Phillips 66 U.S. Championships at Stanford University, where she could swim in college (Smith has verbally committed to Stanford but can’t sign before Nov. 13). Still, she left with her first senior national championship, winning the 200 butterfly in 2:07.26.
Smith swam the 200 freestyle at nationals but missed the championship final by one-tenth of a second. She finished sixth in the 100 butterfly preliminaries but did not swim the final.
“I wanted to put absolutely no pressure on myself at nationals and just swim a few more races and do my best,” she said. “World championships was my focus meet this summer and I wanted to just be happy about my results there instead of stressing over more races at nationals.”
The one downside of Smith’s world championships experience is she couldn’t accept the prize money available for setting world records without jeopardizing a potential athletic scholarship from Stanford. If she qualifies for the 2020 Olympics and medals, she will be able to keep prize money and retain college swimming eligibility.
The 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials are June 21-28 in Omaha, Nebraska, with the Olympics starting July 24 in Tokyo.