TYR Pro Series: Regan Smith Dials Up Impressive 2:05.94 in 200 Back

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Pro Series – Knoxville (Day Four)

Results

The Regan Smith Express continues to roll along toward the Olympic Games in Tokyo, as the American teenager delivered another standout performance on Sunday night to close out her weekend at the TYR Pro Series stop in Knoxville. Contesting the 200-meter backstroke, Smith established a championship record of 2:05.94 to win the race by more than three seconds.

Coming off a 58-low effort in the 100 back on Saturday night, Smith posted a time at twice the distance that has only been bettered or equaled by seven women in history. Of course, Smith holds the world record from last summer at 2:03.35, a performance that was turned in during the semifinal round of the World Championships. Smith went on to capture gold in the final with another sub-2:04 showing.

On Sunday night, Smith put her dominance in the event on display as she opened up a lead of nearly a second on the opening lap and expanded that advantage to more than two seconds by the midway point (1:00.97). She added to her lead over the last two laps to comfortably beat Isabelle Stadden, who was timed in 2:09.32.

“I feel a lot better than I thought I was going to feel, if I’m being honest,” Smith said. “I feel like I’ve really done a good job of doing what’s important: recovering, getting sleep, getting a massage. I’ve been really happy with how I’ve been doing.”

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Penny Oleksiak. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

At the last Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, nothing could separate Canadian Penny Oleksiak and American Simone Manuel in the 100 freestyle, as the women shared the gold medal in a stunning finish. In Knoxville, they went into the wall together again, but it was Oleksiak getting the win this time in 53.41, with Manuel just behind in 53.44. The winner of the 50 free earlier in the meet, Erika Brown was right with the Olympic champs, as she stopped the clock in 53.49.

While Manuel has enjoyed tremendous success since Rio, including double gold in the sprints at last summer’s World Championships, Oleksiak has not replicated her feats from the 2016 Games, where she was also the silver medalist in the 100 butterfly. But a 53-mid performance in January of the Olympic year is a good sign for the 19-year-old, who will play a significant role in Canada’s pursuit of three relay medals in Tokyo.

Brown was ahead of the field at the halfway mark in Knoxville, turning in 25.61, with Manuel at 25.70 and Oleksiak in a tie for fourth at 26.07. But Oleksiak, with the best endurance of the bunch, rallied over the last lap to get her hand on the wall first. Her Canadian teammate, Kayla Sanchez, also broke the 54-second barrier, going 53.74.

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Madisyn Cox. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Fueled by a superb back half in which she registered the fastest splits for the breaststroke and freestyle legs, Madisyn Cox earned a hard-fought victory in the 200 individual, her time of 2:09.88 enough to fend off rising teenager Alex Walsh (2:10.38) and veteran Melanie Margalis (2:10.42). Cox sat fifth after the opening butterfly leg and moved up to third after the backstroke before relying on her strengths down the stretch.

The top-three finishers in Knoxville – who were the leading Americans in 2019 – are expected to be among the prime contenders at the United States Olympic Trials in June, where Ella Eastin and Kathleen Baker will join the chase for berths to Tokyo. Cox’s winning time cut .12 off her best performance from the 2019 season, a positive development considering it’s only January.

While Margalis had the chance to race in the International Swimming League late last year, Cox was denied the opportunity to race in the ISL due to the league’s no-tolerance policy concerning athletes who have tested positive for a banned substance. Cox failed a test in early 2018 and originally received a four-year ban, which was later reduced to two years. But Cox took her case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and proved to the panel that the multivitamin she was taking, Cooper Complete, was contaminated.

Cox’s ordeal forced her to miss the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships and 2019 World Championships, major international competitions in which she could have tangled with some of the biggest names in the sport. Now, she is clearly moving in the right direction toward Omaha and the U.S. Trials.

“This event is crazy stacked, even people who aren’t here like Ella (Eastin) and others,” Cox said. “As you can see it makes it really exciting because when everyone is good, it lifts everyone up and we’re better together as a group.”

One of the United States’ brightest young stars, Carson Foster, finished first in the 200 individual medley. The University of Texas recruit was the

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Carson Foster. Photo Courtesy: FINA / Budapest 2019

only athlete to break the two-minute barrier, winning in 1:59.50. Foster, a threat to make the United States Olympic Team in several events, got the best of Texas product Will Licon, who touched in 2:00.21 after claiming the 200 breaststroke a night earlier.

Titles in the 400 freestyle and 800 freestyle already secured earlier in the meet, Erica Sullivan raced alone on the way to victory in the 1500 freestyle. Sullivan went through her 30 laps in 16:01.71, an effort that left her easily clear of Chile’s Kristel Kobrich (16:17.86). For the men, Zane Grothe backed up his win in the 400 freestyle from Saturday with a decision in the 1500 free, thanks to a time of 15:19.77.

“I’m pretty happy with it,” Sullivan said. “I’m exactly where I want to be right now so I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

In other action, Zach Apple went 48.98 to win the men’s 100 freestyle and Javier Acevedo topped the field in the 200 backstroke in 1:59.90.

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