TYR Pro Series: Regan Smith Scorches 58.26 for 100 Backstroke Gold in Knoxville

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Photo Courtesy: PATRICK B. KRAEMER

TYR Pro Series – Knoxville (Day Three)

RESULTS

The expectations surrounding Regan Smith and what she might accomplish at this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo are massive, fueled by what the teenager managed at last year’s World Championships. Given what Smith did on the third night of the TYR Pro Series stop in Knoxville, the attention isn’t going to lessen at any point in the immediate future.

One night after setting a National Age Group record in the 100 butterfly for the 17-18 category, Smith unloaded a spectacular effort of 58.26 to set a meet record and record the 12th-fastest time in history. The performance Saturday night was the quickest ever in January and, for that matter, the first three months of a calendar year, a fact that lends the mind to wonder what Smith might be capable of doing this summer.

Out in 28.36, Smith had a comfortable lead by the turn and remained strong to the finish to post the second-fastest time of her career. Lost in the dominance of Smith was fellow teenager Phoebe Bacon, one of several American women capable of qualifying for the Olympics in the 100 back. Bacon was timed in 58.86.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Smith nearly added a second victory in the 200 butterfly, where she tangled with reigning World Championships silver medalist Hali Flickinger. Smith and Flickinger raced evenly through their four laps, until Flickinger found a final surge in the last 15 meters to get to the wall first, her time of 2:08.34 bettering the 2:08.73 of Smith.

Clipped for the gold medal at the World Champs by Hungarian Boglarka Kapas, Flickinger shifted her training grounds in late 2019 from her longtime base at the University of Georgia to Arizona and the guidance of Bob Bowman. The 25-year-old Flickinger is chasing her second Olympic invitation, following a seventh-place finish in the 200 fly in 2016.

“I love racing Regan,” Flickinger said. “She’s such a sweetheart and has such a light spirit and I always like racing next to her. I love her to pieces. I could feel her throughout the race, but I was really trying to focus on the little things. I knew she was there, but I had to remember what I was in training for and what I have been focusing on and to not mess with that.”

A highly touted age-group performer for many years, Smith surged to a new level at the 2019 World Championships. In addition to setting a world record in the 200 backstroke (2:03.35), Smith led off the United States’ world-record-setting 400 medley relay with another global standard in the 100 backstroke (57.57). That quickly, Smith became one of the most-hyped athletes for the Olympic season.

While Smith is expected to be the woman to beat in both backstroke events in Tokyo, her gains in other events, especially the butterfly stroke, have created ambitions for a challenging, multi-event program. It would not be surprising if Smith threatens to complement the backstrokes with a fly event and, potentially, duty in the 800 freestyle relay.

“It was a tough day,” Smith said. “I was kind of nervous for it and it was kind of hanging over my head. But I’m really happy that it’s out of the way now and happy with how I swam. It felt really good, and I don’t think I could have asked for a better night.”

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Erika Brown. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The upset of the night belonged to the University of Tennessee’s Erika Brown, who delighted the home crowd at the Allan Jones Aquatic Center by defeating reigning world champion Simone Manuel. Ahead of Manuel from the start, Brown fended off a late charge by the Team USA veteran to prevail in 24.57, with Manuel touching in 24.63.

Brown has enjoyed a strong collegiate season and her profile has continuously risen, to the point where she is a major contender not just to earn a relay spot for the Games, but to secure an individual-event invitation. Brown cut a hundredth of a second off her season best from last year, when she ranked 15th in the world and third among Americans, behind Manuel and Abbey Weitzeil.

“About two years ago, I was really struggling with long course,” Brown said. “But my coaches are really great. They’re extra smart so we’ve been working on it every day in practice and that really adds up and pays off.”

The men’s 100 backstroke also figures to be a hotly contested affair at the United States Olympic Trials in Omaha, and Justin Ress plans on being a central player. The North Carolina State product stopped the clock in 53.99 to win by more than a second over Javier Acevedo (55.22).

“That’s the first time I’ve been able to go what I consider fast in-season and after putting on some more weight, I feel healthier than I did last year or two years ago, so I’m pretty excited about it,” Ress said. “I know what I have to do going into the year and it’s going to be really tough. Being a backstroker in America, you know what’s coming. So, I’m using that as motivation.”

Annie Lazor and Will Licon walked away with TYR Pro Series victories in the 200 breaststroke. Lazor covered her race in 2:23.06, a little more than a second clear of Emily Escobedo. As for Licon, he delivered a consistently paced race to finish first in 2:10.34, exactly a second faster than Anton McKee. Licon has unfinished business from the Olympic Trials in 2016, where he placed third and missed a trip to Rio by only .14.

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The winner of the 800 freestyle on Thursday night, Erica Sullivan went to half that distance on Saturday and reaped the same results. Sullivan supplied a personal-best time of 4:06.36 to notch a three-second win over Allison Schmitt, who won the 200 free on Friday. On the men’s side, Zane Grothe and Kieran Smith went stroke for stroke for eight laps, with just .13 separating at the touch. Grothe got the victory in 3:48.38, with Smith registering a mark of 3:48.51.

In other action, Canadian Mack Darragh won the men’s 200 fly in 1:59.29, American Andrew Seliskar (1:59.60) the only other swimmer to break the two-minute barrier. Meanwhile, Dutchman Nils Korstanje topped the field in the 50 freestyle in 22.16.

TYR Pro Series

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