TYR Pro Series: Regan Smith Snares Win in 200 Backstroke, NAG in 100 Fly


At this stage of the Olympic season, much of the discussion will revolve around how athletes look with the Tokyo Games just more than four months away. Well, count Regan Smith in the right-on-track category, as the teenage phenom flourished on Friday night at the USA Swimming TYR Pro Series stop in Des Moines, Iowa.

Racing the 200 backstroke and 100 butterfly in her latest tuneup competition for the United States Olympic Trials, Smith came away with a victory and runnerup finish, her second-place effort by the slimmest of margins. The reigning world champion in the 200 backstroke, Smith fended off a late challenge by Kathleen Baker to win that event in 2:06.16, Baker just behind in 2:06.46. Smith benefited from an aggressive front half of her race, which she covered in 1:00.21, opposed to the 1:01.63 of Baker.

In the 100 fly, Smith nearly rallied for a come-from-behind decision, only to be clipped by Kelsi Dahlia at the touch. Dahlia registered a time of 57.33 for the victory, with Smith delivering a personal best of 57.34. The time by Smith set a National Age Group record for the 17-18 classification, breaking her own mark from the morning of 57.75.

While Smith is the favorite for Olympic gold in both backstroke events, her development in the butterfly has made a hefty schedule a real possibility in Tokyo. Her NAG in the 100 fly followed an NAG in the 200 fly from the previous night and she is looking every bit a contender when rested to produce times that will push for a podium spot on the international stage.

Rare are the moments when someone shaves a massive amount of time off a personal-best performance, but Melanie Margalis enjoyed one of those nights in the 400 individual medley. Dropping a time of 4:32.53, which will no doubt catch the attention of competitors around the world, Margalis cut almost three seconds off her previous best of 4:35.50, notched in 2018.


Melanie Margalis – Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

In a battle with Madisyn Cox for the first half of the race, Margalis held a .19 edge at the 200-meter mark. But after the breaststroke leg, Margalis was in front by almost four seconds, thanks to a split of 1:15.66. Margalis further expanded her lead on the freestyle leg, with her 1:02.70 split easily faster than the 1:05.10 of Cox.

The career high came as a surprise, said Margalis: “I definitely didn’t think I would drop three seconds, so that was a surprise. I thought I would be near my best time so I’m glad it happened.” She explained the difference in her approach to 2020 Olympic Trials compared to that in 2016:

“I think in 2016, being an underdog and going to Trials being thankful for the opportunity, whereas now I’m feeling more ‘been there done that’. I’m feeling more like I don’t want to let others down, so it’s a little bit different of a mentality going in.”

Make it three freestyle events and three victories for Katie Ledecky, who added the 200 free title to earlier wins in the 400 free and 1500 free. Blistering the field over the last 150 meters, after letting Siobhan Haughey take the early lead, Ledecky touched the wall in 1:54.59 for the fourth-fastest performance of her career. Haughey finished second in 1:56.48, with Simone Manuel third in 1:56.92, the second-best time of her career.

Unable to race the 200 freestyle at last summer’s World Championships due to a stomach virus that derailed most of her meet, Ledecky gave her rivals an effort to consider on the road to the Tokyo Games. The showing was her fastest in two years and less than a second off her personal best of 1:53.73, the time that won her Olympic gold in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

Ledecky summed up her meet, a 15:29 1500m and a 3:59 400 free in the mix, as having been beyond her expectations:

“It’s been great, it’s exceeded my expectations so far. I figured I would have a good meet with how great training has been going, but you really never know coming into a meet like this if you’re going to be completely dead from training or if it’s going to start showing. It’s always nice when it starts showing.”

Swimming his first 200 backstroke of the 2020 campaign, reigning Olympic champion Ryan Murphy raced alone on the way to the No. 1 time in the world, a 1:55.22 that supplied a comfortable triumph over South Africa’s Christopher Reid (1:58.10). Murphy was just more than a second off the 1:54.12 he posted last summer en route to the silver medal at the World Championships.

Reflecting on his first race test of 2020, Murphy said: “The fitness is there, and it’s nice to get back into racing and shake off the rust a little bit. I feel like each session here I’m getting better and a little more comfortable with my race routine, so that’s a great thing.” Asked to sum up the difference between 2016 and 2020, he noted:

“The most glaring difference is being 24 instead of 20. There’s professional obligations to manage this time around. But in terms of my approach in the water it’s pretty much the same: leave no stone unturned. I want to do everything I can to be the best possible version of myself that I can be.”

Germany’s Jacob Heidtmann turned in an excellent performance to win the 400 individual medley in 4:12.40, three seconds clear of Jay Litherland (4:15.81). The time qualified Heidtmann for the Tokyo Games and puts him in the medal conversation, especially considering the weak nature of the 400 medley at last year’s World Championships. In Gwangju, it took 4:12.07 to reach the podium and while the Olympics will almost certainly bring faster times, Heidtmann is in a good position.

Using a big burst off the final turn, Andrew Seliskar won the men’s 200 free with the only sub-1:47 performance. Seliskar had the fastest split over the last lap and won in 1:46.91, followed by Townley Haas (1:47.48) and Caeleb Dressel (1:47.55). Dressel returned later in the session and used a big final 50 meters to win the 100 butterfly in 50.92, Michael Andrew touching in second in 51.33.

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