2021 TYR Pro Swim Series: Regan Smith Tops Stacked Field in 100 Back; Justin Ress Secures Upset

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

2021 TYR Pro Swim Series: Regan Smith Tops Stacked Field in 100 Back; Justin Ress Secures Upset

Among the events receiving significant attention ahead of the United States Olympic Trials is the women’s 100 backstroke. Why? Well, the event will feature a pair of world-record holders, a medalist from the World Championships and several upstarts who hope to make an impact on the international stage for Team USA.

In what was a precursor to what will unfold in Omaha, several of the top contenders battled on Saturday night during the TYR Pro Swim Series, with Regan Smith emerging victorious. The 18-year-old star led wire-to-wire and paced three women under one minute, winning in 59.75. Olivia Smoliga finished second in 59.94 while Kathleen Baker was third in 59.97.

“I really thrive off of the field,” Smith said at the end of the night in a virtual press conference. “Over the years, I’ve gotten to know them so well and I consider them some of my close friends so it doesn’t feel like competition but just a big team. That sounds kind of cheesy but it’s true. It’s that classic thing, ‘you swim better on a relay’ and it almost feels like a relay – you are swimming with all your friends and you are in the ready room and hyping each other up. You are walking out together and swimming next to each other, but I get that sense of being in a relay almost because I’m with my close friends and we go on trips and we are on Team USA together a lot. It’s definitely more fun than it is nerve-racking and it hypes me up more than it psyches me out.”

The world-record holder at 57.57, from her leadoff leg on the United States’ gold medal 400 medley relay from the 2019 World Champs, Smith was out in 28.44. Down the stretch, Smoliga and Baker narrowed their deficits, but Smith’s early advantage was too much to overcome. To emphasize just how deep the field was in San Antonio, Smoliga was the bronze medalist in the event at the 2019 World Champs and Baker was the former world-record holder at 58.00.

“I feel great! The races are hurting but it’s January so that’s just going to be part of the program at this point. All things considered I’m feeling really good. I’ve been racing really well and I have been trying to execute as well as I can and I think I can’t ask much more from myself right now. Things are looking good and I’m on the right track.”

Smith’s triumph was her second of the night, complementing an earlier win in the 200 butterfly.

“I was happier with the 100 back. That was a really tough race and a really tight field. It killed down the end so I’m really happy that I pushed myself super hard those last 10-15 meters and was able to come out with a win.”

While the women’s version of the 100 backstroke featured a multi-athlete showdown, the men’s edition of the event in San Antonio was a duel between reigning Olympic titlist Ryan Murphy and surging Texas A&M star Shaine Casas. But neither of the guys racing at the Texas site got the overall win, as Justin Ress was swiftest from his work in Richmond.

“It was good to get back in the long course pool,” Murphy said at the end of the night. “The last time I raced long course was in March so it’s really nice to get back into it and work through some strategies there.”

Murphy, who has primarily been known as an “atmosphere” swimmer, meaning he thrives on big crowds, won the race in front of an empty crowd because of the COVID pandemic.

“Swimming is an interesting sport. Some days you are going to feel nice and some days you aren’t. On those days you feel good, you don’t need much of an atmosphere to get going. On days where you feel bad, you’ve got to find a way to pick yourself up and for me sometimes I draw on the crowd to do that. This is a meet where you’ve got to swim tough and manufacture that energy yourself so that’s what I’m trying to do. It is a little bit unique but we are working through it.”

“I had never raced Shaine before. That was kind of interesting and I think it’ll be more interesting and go back and look at the race video and just compare how we are different swimmers. I always learn a lot from stuff like that. I think it is really fun when guys are on a roll. Shaine has a lot of momentum on his side and keeps swimming really fast at every meet. That’s fun to feed off of so it is exciting to race a guy like that.”

Clocking in at 53.37, Ress prevailed by exactly a second over fellow North Carolina State alum Coleman Stewart, and both men are expected to be factors at the Olympic Trials. Ress went out in 25.82 and came back in 27.55 to come up just shy of his personal best, a mark of 53.26 from the 2018 United States Nationals.

Murphy, in the virtual press conference at the end of the night, admitted he was unaware of what Ress had swam over in Richmond but isn’t getting too in his head about getting beat.

“As much as it is nice to come out here and race, the biggest thing is getting back to figuring out how directly correlated what we’ve been doing in practice is to how we are racing. That’s what we are trying to figure out here. What we are doing in practice…is that helping us race well? If not, then we are going to cut out some stuff, and do more of the stuff that is working. That’s kind of our goal as a Cal group coming into this meet.”

In San Antonio, Murphy touched the wall ahead of Casas, his 53.55 comfortably quicker than the 54.32 of the Aggie. Casas was in front at the midway point, but Murphy benefited from an excellent turn and kept the pressure on down the last lap.