DES MOINES – The stakes weren’t particularly high for Regan Smith last week. She wasn’t chasing a medal or an Olympic berth or a world record at the TYR Pro Swim Series meet in Des Moines, where a few hundred fans cheered her on from the metal bleachers at the downtown YMCA.
The world champion from Lakeville was looking for more modest rewards. When the meet ended Saturday, Smith had gotten what she came for: top-flight competition, multiple personal-best swims and a clear sign that her training was right on track. Clocking some of the fastest times in the world this year felt pretty good, too, in a meet she viewed as a dress rehearsal for the upcoming Olympic trials.
“I’m really, really happy with how everything went,’’ Smith said. “It was a great meet, just really solid all around.’’
With the Olympic trials only 3½ months away, Smith is trying not to think too much about the meet she calls “the big grand finale in June.’’ Every day, though, revolves around the work and discipline it takes to get to the trials in Omaha — and the Tokyo Olympics a month later.
The world record holder in the 100- and 200-meter backstrokes, Smith trains six days a week with the Riptide Swim Team in Apple Valley. Her schedule includes frequent trips to Florida to train in a long-course pool; that’s how she will spend her spring break, and where she will be when her classmates at Lakeville North are receiving their high school diplomas in June. She recently spent a week at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, among athletes she hopes to see again in Tokyo.
The goal in Des Moines was to sharpen her racing skills and gauge her progress. Smith finished with victories in the 100 and 200 back; in the 100, her time of 58.18 seconds set a Pro Swim Series record and was the fastest in the world this year. Smith also set U.S. records for the girls’ 17-18 age group in the 200 butterfly (2:06.39) and 100 butterfly (57.34), finishing second in both.
Her coach, Mike Parratto, is leaning toward a three-event program at the Olympic trials, with the 100 and 200 back and the 200 fly. In Des Moines, Smith swam six events and earned personal bests in four, a difficult test that lifted her confidence.
“These meets are great preparation,’’ said Smith, who turned 18 last month. “You’re surrounded by the people you’re going to be surrounded by and competing against at the Olympic trials, so it really isn’t any different. And it’s nice to check in with your friends and see how everyone is doing.
“Every meet is a chance for me to practice for [the trials]. And the more practice I get, the more comfortable I get.’’
Smith’s profile has risen sharply since last summer’s world championships, where she won gold and set a world record in the 200 back (2:03.35), then led off the gold medal-winning 400 medley relay with another world record in the 100 back (57.57). Shortly after she returned from the meet, someone at a Twin Cities gym recognized her; before she knew it, 25 people were asking her for autographs and photos.
NBC, which will broadcast the trials and the Olympics, has flown her to Los Angeles to do promotional photo and video shoots. Camera crews also have been to her home to film day-in-the-life footage. An introvert by nature, Smith has accepted the attention, though her father, Paul, makes sure she is not overwhelmed by it.
“It can be exhausting for her,’’ Paul Smith said. “Some days, you don’t want another camera person watching you eat macaroni and cheese. I’m getting better at saying no.’’
Regan never tires of being in the pool, Parratto said. As she grows stronger and more physically mature, he has increased her dryland training. Twice a week, she has two-a-day practices, honing her technique and building endurance.
In Des Moines, Smith swam the 100 free, 100 and 200 fly, 100 and 200 back and 200 individual medley. She has qualified for the Olympic trials in seven events but believes three or four will be her “sweet spot,’’ keeping her busy without draining her.
At the trials and the Olympics, the three events Parratto has targeted will encompass nine swims — preliminaries, semifinals and finals — spread out evenly over six days. Should she make the Olympic team, she could swim relays as well.
“You want to be realistic,’’ Parratto said. “We’re not swimming the [Olympic trials] just to swim the meet. She’s swimming the meet to get on the team, and those seem to be the best opportunities for her.
“She’s pretty good at a lot of things. I suppose we could train for more of those events, but I think the six days is pretty good.’’
Smith will swim in three TYR pro series meets before the Olympic trials, including the finale May 6-9 in Indianapolis. She is not resting for these competitions, yet she is excelling. In addition to the records she set in Des Moines, she broke the pro series record in the 200 back with a victory at the Knoxville meet in January.
Things will only get more hectic in the coming months. Smith will swim for Stanford beginning next fall, and per its requirements, she is taking two advanced-placement classes at the Lakeville North campus in addition to her online coursework. She’s also making another trip to Los Angeles later this month for a U.S. Olympic Committee media event, which highlights athletes who are expected to be stars in Tokyo.
Her experience in Des Moines was a bit more low-key. Several family members supported Smith from the bleachers at the YMCA, and her grandmother made a special delivery of some fruit during the Friday preliminaries.
As dress rehearsals go, it was everything she needed at this mile marker on the Olympic trials trail.
“The closer it gets, the more I think about it, and the more nervous I get,’’ Smith said. “But I think that’s normal. I think if I keep doing what I’ve been doing this entire season, and during my entire career, I’m going to be in a really good spot. I’ll have a great chance.’’