Regan Smith Secures First World Title in 200 Back, Just Misses Own WR With 2:03.69 (Race Video)

Regan Smith of the United States of America (USA) reacts after winning in the women’s 200m Backstroke Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 27 July 2019.
Regan Smith after winning her first World title -- Photo Courtesy: PATRICK B. KRAEMER

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World Swimming Championships Regan Smith

Gwangju 2019

Day Seven Finals

Women’s 200 Back

After taking down a legendary world record in the semifinals, Regan Smith of the United States won her first international gold medal with an utterly dominant performance. Smith went out well under world record-pace, flipping at the 100 in 59.45, well ahead of her 1:00.37 halfway split from the night before. Smith remained on pace for another record-breaking swim at the 150, only to fade slightly down the stretch.

Smith ended up touching the wall in 2:03.69, just shy of her 2:03.35 from Friday’s semifinals but still well ahead of the previous world record, Missy Franklin’s 2:04.06 from the London Olympics. No matter, as Smith crushed the field by more than two and a half seconds. Thrilled with her semifinal world record, Smith “was looking to see where I could take it” in the final, and even if she faded down the stretch

Australia’s Kaylee McKeown, who actually held the world junior record in the event before Smith, took the silver in 2:06.26, while Canada’s Kylie Masse edged out Italy’s Margherita Panziera for bronze, 2:06.62 to 2:06.67.

Shocking the World

Smith had no inclination that her semifinal round would produce a world record. She had come out of the preliminaries in first place, her time of 2:06.01 faster than her own world junior record, so she figured she could drop a little bit of time in the semifinal to prepare herself for a run at her first World Championships medal the following night.

That was her track, at least how she saw it, a steady progression into the world’s elite in the four-lap backstroke. It had all started at U.S. Nationals in 2017, when a then-15-year-old Smith had finished second behind Kathleen Baker in the 200 back to earn a spot at her first World Championships, where she ended up qualifying for the final and placing eighth.

One year later, Smith continued chipping away at her lifetime bests, dropping from a 2:07.19 in the 200 back to 2:06.43, good enough to tie Baker for the national title. Smith also took down the world junior record in the 100 back, finishing third in that event as well as in the 200 fly. Weeks later, she went to Pan Pacs and earned a bronze in the 200 back.

All the while making incremental progress, success never went to Smith’s head.

“I don’t think she looked at anything as trying to accomplish things in big chunks,” said her coach, Mike Parratto. “You want to have these training successes, and then you want to have these early or mid-season swims that give you great information about where you are and what you need to do next. She’s always at practice. She’s as dedicated as I’ve seen anybody. She’s willing to take the challenges of the training when they come her way.”

Meanwhile, those around the country who saw Smith swim and watched her results realized her special potential. American records in the 100 and 200-yard back at a Sectionals meet in Raleigh, N.C., in March only confirmed those suspicions. Her progression obvious, the thought was that maybe, if everything went right, Smith could emerge victorious from a 200 back World Championships final come late July.

Regan Smith of the United States of America (USA) celebrates a New World Record after competing in the women’s 200m Backstroke Semifinal during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 26 July 2019.

Regan Smith reacts – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

The world record, Franklin’s 2:04.06? That was way out there. Maybe eventually, but not yet. No way.

But then Smith went out in her Gwangju semifinal and flipped in 29.06, 1:00.37 and 1:31.84. As she touched the wall a full five meters ahead of the field, Smith’s jaw dropped before she could even reach for her goggles. “Oh my god,” she said and then repeated. In 2:03.35, she now owned the world record.

Meanwhile, Back in Minnesota…

On the other side of the world in Apple Valley, Minnesota, Parratto was running practice for about 36 senior-level swimmers on Riptide Swim Team. The group had a break in their set just around the time the second semifinal of the women’s 200 back was getting underway. So Parratto hooked his phone up to a screen so all of Smith’s teammates could watch.

Before Worlds, Parratto had thought about a line he had heard from longtime coach Mark Schubert at clinics over the years: “You have to have a lot of good swims before you can have a great swim.” The way he saw it, Smith had been putting out a lot of good swims, both in meets and in practices, over the previous two years. So when his 17-year-old protégée touched the wall, as the world fell into a state of collective amazement, Parratto smiled. He knew.

“She’s trained extremely well,” Parratto said. “Can I pinpoint a specific time? No. Did I think she was going to be in the area of these times? I did. She had a really great training year. She ended last summer on a pretty good note. She just had a great training year. Part of that was in March, when she was fast in the 200-yard back in the 100-yard back, and then the training in April, May and June was very good, just really great training times here and there.

“She has the ability, she has the focus, she has a really good background in training, and you put all those things together, you got to seem like that.”

Parratto’s first instinct was to compare Smith’s achievement to Bob Beamon, the U.S. long jumper who broke the world record by 21.5 inches at the 1968 Olympics, an achievement that surprised Beamon so much his legs gave out from underneath his body. But Parratto insisted that this was a performance Smith had made herself capable of through meticulous preparation.

“She’s pretty level-headed. She understands that the training that she did is what got her there,” he said. “I don’t think these are surprises.”

What Makes Regan Smith Special

Quite often, swimmers see remarkable success as young teenagers and then plateau, never finding their way to the next level. Perhaps they become complacent with their success or physically can’t handle the pressure and training. Whatever the reasons, plenty of 15-year-old World Championships finalists fizzle out long before blossoming into world record-holders and gold medalists.

But Smith has thrived—and she has potential to extend her range far beyond just the 200 back. After her semifinal world record and even before, there was plenty of chatter that Smith could handle leadoff duties on the U.S. women’s 4×100 medley relay on the last day of the World Championships in place of World Champs bronze medalist Olivia Smoliga and 100 back world record-holder Baker.


Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

And maybe, just maybe, Smith could follow up her success in the 200 back with a similar performance in the 100. “I kind of feel like she has a chance to maybe get both records this year,” Parratto said.

Beyond that, Parratto believes Smith has plenty of untapped, national-level potential in the butterfly events and perhaps even the 200 free, and she will have a chance to show that off stateside at next week’s U.S. Nationals.

And how has she managed to achieve so much success so quickly? Because of her dedication, her level-headedness and because beyond all the swimming accomplishments, she’s just a regular 17-year-old high school senior-to-be.

After breaking the world record in the semifinal, Smith mentioned her school friends back home who had woken up at 6:30 a.m. to watch her swim. She discussed plans to take a week or two off swimming in August and take trips to lake cabins at home in Minnesota. And she explained how her attitude about swimming opens her up to seemingly unlimited accomplishments.

“I’ve said before I never like to put caps on what I can achieve and accomplish,” Smith said. “I never like to set specific goals. I think I perform my best when I don’t put a limit to what I can accomplish.”

For now, 17-year-old Regan Smith is the 200 back World Champion and the fastest swimmer in history, with promises of even more.

Results of Gwangju 200 back:

  1. Regan Smith (USA), 2:03.69
  2. Kaylee McKeown (AUS), 2:06.26
  3. Kylie Masse (CAN), 2:06.62
  4. Margherita Panziera (ITA), 2:06.67
  5. Taylor Ruck (CAN), 2:07.50
  6. Minna Atherton (AUS), 2:08.26
  7. Katalin Burian (HUN), 2:08.65
  8. Katinka Hosszu (HUN), 2:10.08

Read more about the FINA World Swimming ChampionshipsRegan Smith


  1. Largo Abramovitch

    Je suis décidé à reprendre les entraînements le plus tôt possible 🙆

  2. Erin Brown Lowack

    The title of this article is very misleading. Maybe say, “…just off her World Record Time”?

  3. avatar
    Abdul kargbo

    Regan u are so amazing
    Keep it up