How Clark Smith Became a Distance Phenom

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

By Alec Scott, Swimming World College Intern

Over the last two years, Clark Smith has established himself as one of the premier distance freestylers in the country, but it didn’t start out that way for the 6-foot-9 University of Texas senior from Colorado.

“When I was being recruited, most coaches thought I would have more potential in the 100 fly and 100 free my junior and senior year, so that’s a bit of a disappointment,” Smith laughed.

Smith swam a 46.54 100 fly as a high school senior, but after winning an NCAA title in the 500 free as a sophomore at the University of Texas, he started to turn his training more toward distance. At the beginning of his junior season, a 2000 free time trial at the famed “Eddie Reese Invitational” changed everything.

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Photo Courtesy: Andy Ringgold / Aringo Photos

“Eddie asked me to do a timed 2000 and at the 1650 split I think was like 14:37 or 38,” Smith said. “From that point we kind of had a silent agreement that I was going to do the mile.”

The switch paid off as Smith set a new American record in the 1000 free with an 8:33.93 at the 2015 Texas Invite and a new Texas team record in the 1650 free at the Big 12 championships with a 14:31.29. He followed up his junior season with a gold medal in the Rio Olympics as part of the preliminary 800 freestyle relay.

Smith’s training habits made the transition to distance relatively simple, the way he sees it, he always put in the work to be able to do a mile, even if he just started racing it last year, a trait he credits to former Texas teammate Michael McBroom.

“Michael McBroom is basically the reason I’m doing distance now, having someone like him to train with made the difference for me,” Smith said. “My first week at Texas after my senior year, he dove an 800 free in practice and went 7:52, having someone like that around just makes you better. I’ve never seen anyone do what he could do in practice.”

Heading into his final NCAA championships, Smith is more comfortable with the mile than ever before.

“I think I’ve swam it about five or six times now,” he said. “It’s never easy, but I’m definitely more comfortable with it.”

Coaches and teammates haven’t held back their praise for Smith’s work ethic. Following Townley Haas200 freestyle win at Olympic Trials Texas head coach Eddie Reese told Texassports.com, “Townley is a hard worker in practice every day,” he said. “He’s the only swimmer I’ve got who never gave up on trying to beat Clark Smith in a workout. I don’t know anyone who can do that. Townley never gave up. He kept trying and it paid off.”

Smith doesn’t to read too much into that kind of praise, he had an easy way to describe his training habits, “I don’t really think about motivation,” he said. “I just turn my brain off and go.”

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.