TOKYO — In a way, it felt like a graduation. Once Regan Smith climbed out of the Tokyo Aquatics Center pool, the Lakeville swimmer recognized she was no longer a rookie.
Smith earned another silver medal Sunday in her final race of the Tokyo Olympics, the women's 4x100-meter medley relay. She ended her first Summer Games with three medals: silver in the relay and the 200 butterfly, and bronze in the 100 backstroke. Smith, 19, was among five U.S. swimmers to win three or more medals in Tokyo as the sport wrapped up its Olympic schedule Sunday in Tokyo.
Her haul set a state milestone, as Smith became the first Minnesotan to win more than two medals at a single Olympics. Gymnast Suni Lee could join her as a Tokyo triple medalist when she competes in the uneven bars final.
During the past four years, Smith has been one of the youngest members of the U.S. team at major meets. She was one of 11 teenagers on the Olympic roster, the most since the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Later this month, she will begin studying and swimming at Stanford, marking another passage in her life. Smith's aim Sunday was to end this chapter with the best race possible, creating another memory for her mental scrapbook.
"Every day, I tried to take a few minutes to let the day sink in, and have a few details that I'll remember,'' Smith said. "It's an Olympic Games. It's an extremely special opportunity.
"It's crazy to think I'll never be a rookie again. This was a great experience. I feel like I learned a lot, getting to spend time with so many incredible men and women on this team. I think that was the best part, getting to spend some time with people and have Team USA grow closer.''
The U.S. concluded the Olympic meet with 30 medals, including 11 gold. That topped the medal table in both categories. Australia put on its best Summer Games performance in years, finishing second in total medals (20) and golds (nine).
The Aussies got the better of the U.S. in the women's medley relay. The Americans were the two-time defending Olympic champions and held the lead going into the freestyle leg, but they could not hold on.
Smith led off with the backstroke, clocking a time of 58.05 seconds. That put them in third, .15 behind Canada and Australia. Lydia Jacoby gave the U.S. the lead on the breaststroke leg, and Torri Huske maintained it, leaving the Americans with a .25 advantage before Abbey Weitzeil dived in.
Cate Campbell caught Weitzeil in the final 50 meters to give Australia the victory in three minutes, 51.60 seconds. The U.S. was just .13 of a second behind.
"We all just gave it our all in that last race,'' Smith said. "There was nothing more we could do.''
In addition to her medals, Smith set a personal-best time in the 200 fly in Tokyo, crushing her previous mark by more than a second in the finals. She logged some of her best performances in the 100 back, twice breaking the Olympic record before Australia's Kaylee McKeown lowered it once more in the finals.
Smith swam 57.86 in the 100 back semifinals, then dropped more time in the preliminaries of the mixed medley relay. Her time of 57.64 was just .07 of a second off of the world record she set in 2019, which was broken by McKeown in June. Mixed medley relay legs do not count in records or all-time lists, but that swim would have been the fifth-fastest of all time in the women's 100 back.
The U.S. clocked the second-fastest qualifying time in the mixed medley relay but finished fifth in the final, which Smith did not swim. She would have earned another if the Americans had made the top three.
The Tokyo Games ended a five-year journey that brought accolades, challenges and disappointments. In 2017, Smith made her first world championships team, finishing eighth in the 200 back at age 15 as the youngest swimmer on the U.S. roster.
Her big breakthrough came at the next world championships in 2019. Smith's two world records — in the 100 back and 200 back — and a world championship in the 200 back invited comparisons to American greats such as Missy Franklin. With only one year until the 2020 Olympics, Smith was expected to be one of the big stars of the Tokyo Games.
Then the pandemic hit, upending Smith's four-year plan. The Olympics were postponed. The state shutdown of gyms and other sports facilities closed her pool, Bluewater Aquatic Center in Apple Valley, for several months. She had to focus on dryland training and find ways to stay engaged, no easy task with so much uncertainty.
"I was so worried about not being here,'' Smith said last week, after her bronze in the 100 back. "I was so worried about that all through the pandemic. At times, it made it hard during training to stay motivated and keep going.
"It was super easy to be like, 'What am I training for? This might not even happen.' I'm happy that I kept my head down and continued to train hard. It really ended up paying off.''
Smith graduated from Lakeville North High School in 2020 but deferred her enrollment at Stanford. She soon will join a deep Cardinal roster for coach Greg Meehan, who coached the U.S. women in Tokyo.
With the 2024 Paris Olympics only three years away, another Summer Games could be in Smith's future. She won't soon forget this one.
"A year ago, we didn't think these Games were going to happen,'' she said. "Coming together and performing as well as we did, there's a lot to be proud of.''