TOKYO — As much as she loves the 200-meter butterfly, Regan Smith knows how she's going to feel near the end of it. Over the final 50 meters, she usually tires, unable to sustain her speed until she touches the wall for the last time.
Wednesday night, Smith was in contention for an Olympic medal when she made the final turn. Right there at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre, the 19-year-old Lakeville swimmer decided there was no better time to change that pattern.
"I knew that last 50 would be a really tough fight, and I tend to poop out,'' Smith said. "I just told myself, 'Not today.' I'm going to put my head down and push for Team USA.''
She didn't just hang on. Smith swam a ferocious final 50 to overtake teammate Hali Flickinger and win a silver medal in the 200 fly, reaching the podium for the second time at the Tokyo Games.
No one was catching China's Zhang Yufei, who blasted out of the blocks to win by a wide margin. Zhang set an Olympic record with a time of two minutes, 3.86 seconds, the third-fastest time in history. She finished 1.44 seconds ahead of Smith, who posted a time of 2:05.30. Flickinger was third in 2:05.65.
Smith was third behind Zhang and Flickinger at the 100- and 150-meter marks. She said after the semifinals that she thought she "had another gear'' for the finals, and she proved it. Smith swam the last 50 meters in 32.10 seconds, fastest of anyone in the field, and peeled more than a second off her previous personal-best time.
“I think all the emotions on my face really showed. I was just super, super happy that my race really came together and I executed well, and all my hard work over this tough year really paid off.”
After she touched the wall, Smith looked up at the video screen in disbelief, staring at the results with her mouth agape.
"It was just shocking,'' Smith said. "I mean, that was a super great time. And dropping over a second, it's something that I'm not very used to.
"I think all the emotions on my face really showed. I was just super, super happy that my race really came together and I executed well, and all my hard work over this tough year really paid off.''
The silver came two days after Smith won her first Olympic medal, a bronze, in the 100 backstroke. Thursday's medals were the first for the U.S. in the women's 200 fly in 21 years, ending the longest medal drought for the Americans in any swimming event. The U.S. had not won multiple medals in the women's 200 fly since 1972.
Smith could have more Olympic races ahead. She is a candidate to swim in the women's 4x100 medley relay and could be part of the mixed medley relay as well.
Wednesday night, Smith raced her way into Minnesota Olympics history. Fewer than five Minnesota natives have won more than one medal in a single Games, none since Lindsey Vonn won two in Vancouver's alpine events in 2010. Now add Smith to that short list — andearly Thursday morning gymnast Suni Leecould join her.
Though she's still known primarily as a backstroke swimmer, Smith has steadily dropped time in the butterfly. When she struggled with backstroke training last year, her butterfly training was a constant and a comfort.
In the semifinals, Smith swam only .25 of a second off her personal best in the 200 fly. Her time of 2:06.64 was the fifth-best in the world this year, with only Zhang, Flickinger and Hungary's Boglarka Kapas going faster in 2021. At the Olympic trials, Smith finished second to Flickinger in 2:06.99, the world's sixth-fastest time this year.
Smith said she was "super pleased'' with her semifinal time and was motivated by the very fast Flickinger. In the final, they raced side by side in lanes five and six, which Smith felt was ideal.
"I love swimming next to Hali,'' Smith said. "I always swim incredibly well when I'm next to her and she's there to push me. I was feeling really confident before the race.''
Smith was second after the first 50 meters, then settled into third as she tracked Flickinger. Her goal was to have fun, she said, in a race that felt less stressful to her than the 100 back final two days earlier.
Finding another gear, and a silver medal, made it more fun than Smith could have imagined.
"I'm really, really pleasantly surprised,'' she said. "Before today, I hadn't hit my best time in about a year and a half. So this was a really big deal to me.''