Regan Smith hasn’t raced against national competition since March, when she competed in a Pro Swim Series meet in Des Moines. Thanks to a bit of scheduling serendipity, she will resume her Olympic preparations in the same place.
Smith, of Lakeville, will swim in the U.S. Open this weekend at the Wellmark YMCA in Des Moines. The meet restarts USA Swimming’s major event calendar, which was halted in March as the pandemic shut down sports. With her training schedule back to normal, the U.S. Open will give Smith a chance to check her progress and get back into racing mode.
The continuing grip of the coronavirus means the meet won’t follow the usual routine. It is being held at multiple locations to limit the number of swimmers at each facility, and there are no preliminaries, only timed finals. The results from all nine sites will be combined to determine overall winners.
None of that matters much to Smith, who has been aching to race after several quiet months.
“It feels like I’m kind of picking up where I left off,” said Smith, 18, the world record holder in the 100- and 200-meter backstrokes. “It’s been a bit of a struggle to train when you’re not sure if or when a meet is going to happen.
“With something to work toward, and getting to compete this weekend, it rejuvenated my motivational level. I’m really excited.”
More than 45 members of the U.S. national team and 25 Olympians are registered to compete at the U.S. Open, running Thursday through Saturday. Olympic gold medalists Ryan Lochte and Kathleen Baker and world champions Chase Kalisz and Smith are among the biggest names. Many college swimmers also will race at the U.S. Open, with about 1,200 athletes expected.
Smith plans to swim five races in two days: the 100 and 200 backstroke, the 100 and 200 butterfly and the 200 individual medley. She is the No. 1 seed in each. While the fields are small — ranging from four to 13 swimmers per race — Smith faces strong competition in three events from Phoebe Bacon, who defeated her in the 100 back at last year’s U.S. Open.
After graduating from Lakeville North in June, Smith decided to defer her enrollment at Stanford and continue training at home. Her only races since March have come in intrasquad meets with her club, Apple Valley-based Riptide Swim Team.
She’s happy to be back on a regular training schedule of nine sessions per week, and even happier to have a meet to gauge how she stacks up in competition.
“This is my first chance to race, like really race, in seven or eight months,” Smith said. “I just want to take advantage of it and see where I’m at. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, especially now.
“I think this will be a great way to get a toe in the water. I’ve been working hard on technical things and racing strategies in practice, and I just want to execute my races really well. I think that will put me in a really good spot.”
The main goal remains the Olympic trials in June, rescheduled from last summer after the Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021. After the U.S. Open, Smith will race in some Pro Swim Series meets to prepare for the trials. That circuit was supposed to begin this month but has been delayed until January.