Swimming World NCAA Male Swim of the Year: Kieran Smith Ties 500 Freestyle American Record

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Kieran Smith -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

NCAA Swim of the Year: Kieran Smith Ties 500 Free American Record

During the 2021 college swimming championship season, no American records were broken, but one record was tied in an exciting showdown at the SEC Championships in late February. The University of Florida’s Kieran Smith had set the American record in the 500 free as a sophomore with a 4:06.32, breaking the mark by more than a second in the process, but he had yet to win an NCAA title as the 2020 meet was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At his junior year conference meet, Smith raced the 500 free one day after he swam a 1:29.48 200 free leading off the Gators’ 800 free relay, the second-fastest mark ever in the 200 free and just three tenths off the American record. In the 500 free final, he showed off some speed by splitting 1:35.70 at the 200-yard mark, more than a second under American-record pace, but then, Smith got a challenge from Georgia freshman Jake Magahey.

Magahey closed in on Smith over the second half of the race, but Smith had one last burst of speed to give. He pulled away from Magahey on the final turn, and he touched in 4:06.32 to match his mark from one year earlier. Magahey finished second in 4:06.71 to become the second-fastest performer ever.

At the time, the swim looked to be a preview of an even faster dual set to materialize at the NCAA Championships a few weeks later, but that did not happen as neither Smith nor Magahey could repeat that scintilating pace. Instead, Trenton Julian paced the race through 300 yards before Magahey took over. Smith tried to come over the top of him at the finish, but he could not catch up. Magahey, then, captured his first NCAA title in 4:07.97, a new NCAA Championships meet record, with Smith a tenth behind. Smith would end up capturing his first individual title the following day in the 200 free.

Of course, the college season would just be the beginning for Smith as he went on to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team and earn bronze in the 400-meter freestyle in Tokyo. He also finished sixth in the 200 free and swam the fastest leadoff split in the 800 free relay final.

Looking ahead to this college championship season, Smith will again be the headliner in the 500 free as he attempts to get under the elusive 4:06 barrier and take the event to new heights in his senior season. Magahey was unable to break through in long course this year, but he developed a reputation as a freshman for being able to elevate his game against the toughest competition, so expect that to continue in his sophomore campaign.

Honorable Mention: We should note that the men’s college season almost produced a second American record when Texas A&M’s Shaine Casas faced off with Cal’s Destin Lasco in the 200 backstroke at the NCAA Championships. Casas had already won titles in the 200 IM and 100 back at the meet, but Lasco used a phenomenal middle 100 yards to pull ahead with 50 meters to go. But then, Casas fought back, and he hit the wall in 1:35.75. That was just two hundredths off backstroke legend Ryan Murphy’s American record, while Lasco finished second in 1:35.99 to become the third-fastest performer in history. Casas has since departed college swimming, but Lasco will be back with his sights set on breaking the record as a sophomore.