Incoming Stanford frosh Regan Smith stared in disbelief at the results of the women’s 200-meter butterfly finals. With a time of 2:05.30, over a second better than her personal best, she had earned a silver medal for Team USA.
This remarkable accomplishment was just one of Smith’s three medals in her Olympic debut; she also earned bronze in the 100-meter backstroke and silver in the 4×100 meter medley relay.
The silver medal performance on Wednesday did not come easy for the 19-year-old. At the sound of the signal, eight finalists in the stacked field dived into their respective lanes. While Smith was the second to reach the first 50 meters, she soon fell into third place after 100 meters; it appeared that she would be taking home a bronze.
However, in the remaining 50 meters, Smith made a final push. Determined to touch the last wall, she flew past U.S. teammate Hali Flickinger in second. Smith stunned viewers by only taking 32.10 seconds to complete that final lap, the fastest out of all swimmers.
Smith came in after China’s Yufei Zhang, who had set an Olympic record with her time of 2:03.86. Flickinger placed third at 2:05.65.
“I think all the emotions on my face really showed,” Smith told Minnesota’s Star Tribune. “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.”
Smith’s silver followed her bronze medal-winning performance two days prior in the women’s 100-meter backstroke. Primarily known as a backstroke swimmer, she broke several world records at the 2019 World Swimming Championships.
“It was really crazy just because going into that meet, I didn’t think I was capable of doing that,” Smith said to NBC about the 2019 World Championships.
This year, she finished first in the 100 backstroke semifinal, qualifying her to compete in her first Olympic final.
In the final, Smith was unable to gain an advantage in the first 50 meters and was not in the top three at the halfway point.
Nevertheless, she pushed through during the second half of the race once again. After turning and kicking off the wall, Smith passed teammate Rhyan White and finished third with a time of 58.05, claiming her first Olympic medal.
“That’s one of my best times ever. I really went out there and gave it my all,” Smith said to the Star Tribune following her race. “It was a super-stacked heat, so the fact that I came away with a medal, I really can’t ask for much more.”
Smith also participated in a qualifying round for the mixed 4×100 meter medley relay and helped qualify Team USA into the finals with the second-fastest time. She then competed in the women’s 4×100 meter medley relay finals on Saturday, alongside Lydia Jacoby, Torri Huske and Abbey Weitzeil.
Backstroke swimmers opened the race, with Smith representing Team USA. In a tight competition between Australia, America and Canada, Smith was in second after the first 50 meters. On the way to completing the first 100 meters, the gap narrowed between the top three teams, and Smith finished her lap in 58.05 seconds.
Jacoby jumped in next with the breaststroke and was able to bring her team into first at the 150 and 200-meter marks. Huske was also in the lead for the majority of her butterfly leg. Towards the end of the 300 meters, however, the distance between Australia and her shortened.
Weitzeil represented the U.S. in freestyle, the last swimming stroke. She was the first to reach the other side of the pool, but Australia was close behind. It was a stroke-for-stroke final 50 meters for the two swimmers, making it difficult to tell who would win the gold medal.
Both teams broke the previous Olympic record for the women’s 4×100 meter medley relay. Team USA ended with a total time of 3:51.73, only 0.13 seconds slower than Australia, earning a silver medal for the United States.