2021 TYR Pro Swim Series: Kathleen Baker Dazzles in 200 IM; Kieran Smith Grabs Third Win

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2021 TYR Pro Swim Series: Kathleen Baker Dazzles in 200 IM; Kieran Smith Grabs Third Win

So much is made of Kathleen Baker’s prowess in the backstroke events, and rightfully so. After all, Baker is a former world-record holder in the 100 backstroke and has an impressive collection of international hardware from the stroke. That status, though, sometimes causes her talent in the individual medley to go overlooked.

Closing out her weekend at the TYR Pro Swim Series in San Antonio, Baker put together a superb performance in the 200 individual medley, as she prevailed in 2:10.30. That time is a dynamite marker for this point in the season and was enough to turn back the 2:11.22 of Madisyn Cox. The difference for Baker was – as expected – the backstroke leg, where she was more than a second quicker than Cox. Baker, too, yielded little ground to Cox on the breaststroke leg, which enabled her to take a comfortable lead into the closing freestyle leg.

“I worked on consistency in my breaststroke. I went 1:07 in Des Moines last year and breaststroke has always been there but I’ve had some trouble adding it in the IM after backstroke when I’m tired. I spent a lot of time in an endless pool working on my line and head position. I don’t have an amazing kick and I don’t have an amazing pull so I’ve been using my core and my hips in getting me through the water.”

“Before this meet, I was talking about how I need to swim more butterfly. In the 200 IM, I am only swimming butterfly for 35 meters but I should be doing it more in practice so I’m going to be adding more 50s long course or 75s so it gets to the point where I don’t even have to try to go a 27 in the 50 fly or faster. I think a lot of times with adrenaline and rest, my fly comes out. I’m really happy to be that fast in the 200 IM and I think a lot of my splits have negatives that I can fix which is where you want to be in January.”

Under a minute during a third-place finish in the 100 backstroke earlier in the meet, Baker opted to bypass the 200 backstroke on the final night of the meet and put her focus on the 200 medley. The decision turned out to be a good one, and served as a reminder that Baker will be a major factor in the event at this summer’s Olympic Trials.

“I’m pretty happy with the race,” Baker said in the virtual press conference at the end of the night. “I feel like I don’t have a lot of my speed and I was pretty exhausted at this meet. I was pretty disappointed in my 100 back. I feel like I could have and should have been better so I was happy to end on such a good note. I’m definitely lacking that first 50 speed. I’m usually out in 27-mid and I was 28-mid tonight. I’m really happy for the first time in a hot second that my freestyle was faster than my backstroke.”

Among the men, Kieran Smith branched out from his typical freestyle events and secured an easy decision in the 200 medley, going 1:59.38 for a personal best. Already with wins in the 200 freestyle and 400 free pocketed, Smith left no doubt in the shorter medley and prevailed over Will Licon (2:01.20) by nearly two seconds. Jay Litherland was third in 2:01.89.

Smith had actually began his career as an IM’er, reaching the podium in the 200 IM at the 2017 World Juniors for Team USA.

“That was by far the best swim of the meet for me. 2IM is progressing pretty well. It is pretty unfortunate that the NCAA line-up doesn’t spread out the 500 and 200 IM but I had a big best time in yards in November and a best time here.”

Smith beat a pretty strong field, with superb underwaters on the fly and back legs.

“I hit all my turns and underwaters. That is something I sharpened up from this morning even if I wasn’t at 100% this morning.”

A star for the University of Florida, Smith will return to Gainesville and prepare himself for March’s NCAA Championships. After he finishes his duties there, Smith will turn his attention to the Olympic Trials, where Smith has the chance to put together a busy schedule for Tokyo.

“(The 200 IM) will certainly be possible for Trials. There is a bit of an overlap between 1free, the 2IM and the 8free which is why I have been swimming all of those here and I’ll probably swim those down the road. That was a pretty convincing swim for me.”

“Usually I am pretty tired by the end of the meet. That was the best feeling last swim of the meet I’ve had in a really long time. It felt really good.”

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