Kieran Smith Using Benefits of Distance Training to Help His Versatility With Eyes on Omaha

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Photo Courtesy: Luke Jamroz Photography

To the untrained eye, Kieran Smith may have looked out of place at the Open Water Nationals last week in Fort Myers. The majority of the swimmers that walked the beach on the gulf coast were mainly training for the pool 1500 freestyle coming this summer. Smith, who has a distance background from the University of Florida as an SEC champ in the 500 free and 400 IM this year, was NCAA champ in the 200 free and made the final of the 100.

“Swimming open water stems back from my (Ridgefield Aquatic) club coach, Emmanuel Lanzo,” Smith said. “We made it a priority in training to train for every event from 50 free to all the strokes, especially as a 400 IMer, up to the 10K open water. It is something I enjoy doing and it is the only time I can really get physical in this sport and it is the purest form of racing since there’s no lane lines separating. It is something I’ve always done and will continue to do.”

Smith finished in seventh place at last week’s Open Water Nationals in the 5K, which was a higher finish than his 10th place effort in the 10K two days prior.

“(The 5K) was much better than the 10K. I was a little overwhelmed and out of my element. I have never swam a long open water swim in the ocean with this kind of wave and chop condition. I’m more used to flat lake swims.

“I wanted to be more aggressive and did not want to get dropped by any lead pack that might have formed early. I wanted to be toward the front and I was there for two and a half laps and then the Gravley’s and David (Heron) and Simon Lamar got away from me and Joey (Tepper) but we raced hard into the finish and it was a fun experience. That was definitely my best open water race I’ve done.”

Kieran Smith is turning his attention back to the pool with about seven weeks until the Olympic Trials where his best shots at the team seem to be in the 200 and 400 freestyle. The biggest gold medal droughts for the American men are in the 400 & 1500 free with the last golds coming in 1984. Outside of Michael Phelps’ 200 free gold in 2008, the last American medal higher than bronze was Mike Heath’s silver in 1984.

Ahead of this summer’s Olympics, the gold medal favorites look to be coming from the continent of Europe in those events with Germany’s Florian Wellbrock leading the world rankings in the 400, and Italy’s Gabriele Detti and Lithuania’s Danas Rapsys posing as big threats in the 400 and 200, respectively.

The American men have had medalists in the 200 & 400 free at the last Games, but haven’t had a distance swimmer step up to challenge the Europeans or the Australians at the world level since the retirement of Connor Jaeger after the Rio Olympics. USA Swimming has been soul searching for the last few years in men’s distance free, and often those races get overlooked at domestic meets.

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Kieran Smith at NCAAs. Photo Courtesy: Luke Jamroz Photography

With a lot of attention on the dominance of Katie Ledecky, it is not uncommon for the men’s 400 free to be subjected to an online-only showing on a live telecast, or to be shown in a highlight package later. The lack of a true star in American distance swimming has definitely been a driving factor for Smith and his fellow Florida teammate Bobby Finke, who was the NCAA champ and the reigning national champ in the 1650 and 1500.

“I can speak on behalf of Bobby as well in the mile – a lot of people like to doubt America’s middle distance and distance swimming right now,” Kieran Smith said. “I am excited the four-free is on the first day and I can be fresh and show what my full potential is right off the bat, and hopefully I can throw down a time I’m happy with and be competitive with the rest of the world.”

Smith has had a target on his back since first breaking the American record in the 500-yard freestyle in February 2020, just a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shoved the sporting world to a halt, and pushed the Olympics back 52 weeks. It left him without a chance to follow up at NCAAs, and to continue that momentum into the 2020 Olympic Trials. With a full season finally under his belt, the countdown to round two of Trials starts again.

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Kieran Smith celebrates the 200 free NCAA title. Photo Courtesy: NCAA Media

“It’s a lot of anticipation and I talked about it at NCAAs because it got cut so close to the meet in 2020 and I was ready to go. It’s going to be such an emotional meet to finally be there after such a long wait. I feel like I’ve only gotten better and feel the extra year is going to help me in the long run and can’t wait to Omaha.

“SECs and NCAAs both just felt right and normal again…sort of. The only difference was there weren’t any spectators but we worked through it. I harnessed the energy of the meet as best as I could. Omaha will be good because I know they are doing a fair amount of seating in that big arena.”

The United States traditionally holds its Olympic Trials last, as Russia, Great Britain and Brazil have already selected Olympic teams and put up some times for the rest of the world to take notice in the men’s 200 free. The American men have won bronze at the last two Worlds, and as of right now don’t have someone that has emerged as a gold medal favorite in the individual 200 free.

“I have been paying attention to the other Trials a little bit. Until all the Trials are said and done, we aren’t going to know how we shape up against the rest of the world. I think we have all the pieces – about four to eight really good 200 freestylers that can be 1:45 or 1:44. It’s just a matter of putting it together at the meet.

Smith doesn’t seem to be afraid of the challenge that the Olympic Trials brings, and with the benefit of having trained for any event from the 50 to the 10K, he has the training background to make a run at his first Olympics.

2 comments

  1. avatar
    Leander

    And lets face it, Salnikov would have won the 400 and 1500 in the 1984 games if the Bolsheviks hadn’t boycotted the games. There is also the fact that, in 1984, a West German swam the 400 faster than the gold medalist in the first and last time they had consolation finals in the Olympics. So the real gold medal drought for American men goes back to 1976 (although Goddell might have won the 400 or 1500 at the 1980 games if we had competed).

    Does anyone think that adding the 4 x 50 relay is HS meets has hurt American distance swimming? Given double points in relays, it’s quite rational not to swim a talented freestyler in the 500 to improve your teams chances in the 4 x 50.

    • avatar
      Doug

      I believe they still had consolation finals at the Olympics in Atlanta 1996. Though the whole idea of that seems kind of silly at the Olympics

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