Regan Smith Blasts 2:08.48 200 IM at Sun Devil Open; Simone Manuel Wins 50 Free

Regan Smith -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Regan Smith Blasts 2:08.48 200 IM at Sun Devil Open; Simone Manuel Wins 50 Free

In her first season as a professional swimmer based at Arizona State University, Regan Smith has shown her best form since 2019, when she won a world title in the 200 backstroke while setting world records in the 100 and 200-meter back. Her most recent national-level competition at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Westmont, Ill., in April featured a stellar 200 butterfly-100 back double which culminated in a 57.90 100 back and then a 2:04.76 U.S. Open record in the 200 back.

In likely her final competition before next month’s U.S. Nationals, Smith is racing this weekend at the Sun Devil Open, hosted in her home base of Tempe, Ariz., and she began her racing slate Friday with the 200 IM. Smith has raced the event sparingly over the years, but she dropped three seconds from her best time when she last contested the event at the U.S. Open in early December. But six months later, Smith looks world-class in the event, with two more drops suggesting she could make a serious run at the World Championships team in the event.

Smith swam a mark of 2:09.78 in prelims, knocking more than six tenths off her December time of 2:10.40. At night, she crushed that time with a 2:08.48. The mark moved her to fourth in the world this year behind Canada’s Summer McIntosh (2:06.89), Australia’s Kaylee McKeown (2:08.16) and China’s Yu Yiting (2:08.34). The time would have been good enough for silver at last year’s World Championships behind fellow American Alex Walsh, and Smith now ranks 15th in history, with Ariana Kukors, Walsh and Kathleen Baker the only Americans to ever record quicker marks.

A comparison of Smith’s splits in her various medley races over the last six months show slight improvements on her best strokes (butterfly and backstroke) but a huge jump on breaststroke. After splitting 41.22 in December (which was already a huge improvement from her previous best split), Smith was one-and-a-half seconds quicker Friday evening at 39.67.

2022 U.S. Open: 27.64, 59.25 (31.61), 1:40.47 (41.22), 2:10.40 (29.93)
2023 Sun Devil Open (prelims): 27.64, 59.23 (31.59), 1:39.17 (39.94), 2:09.78 (30.61)
2023 Sun Devil Open (final): 27.45, 58.74 (31.29), 1:38.41 (39.67), 2:08.48 (30.07)

After her December swim, Smith indicated that she did not expect to seriously consider a run at the 200 IM “unless I can get my breaststroke down to at least a 39, and even that would really be pushing it.” With this latest jump, she and coach Bob Bowman might have to make that decision.

The event schedule at U.S. Nationals features the 200 IM on the final day, after Smith’s usual backstroke and butterfly events are completed, so a run at the event is possible. If she did contest the medley later this month in Indianapolis, Smith would face off against Walsh, 200-yard IM American-record holder and Olympic bronze medalist Kate Douglass and World Championships bronze medalist Leah Hayes with only two spots available. However, it’s worth noting that the World Championships schedule presents a conflict between the 200 IM and 100 back, presenting a possible conflict for both Smith and McKeown, who is already established as world-class in both events.

Simone Manuel, Chase Kalisz Capture Wins

A pair of Olympic champions currently under Bowman’s tutelage at Arizona State pulled off solid wins Friday. In the 50 freestyle, Simone Manuel got the better of training partner Olivia Smoliga by one hundredth, 25.22 to 25.23. Manuel was just off her season best of 25.18 from the Fort Lauderdale stop of the Pro Swim Series in March.

The men’s 200 IM went to Chase Kalisz, the fourth-place finisher in the event at last year’s World Championships, in 1:57.51. The time moved Kalisz into the global top-10 for 2023, and among Americans, only Shaine Casas and Carson Foster have been quicker. Hubert Kos, a World Championships finalist for Hungary last year now training at Arizona State, took second in 1:59.18.

Jay Litherland, the 400 IM Olympic silver medalist behind Kalisz, won the men’s 400 free in 3:52.24 while Luca Urlando, in his first final since shoulder surgery, placed fourth in 3:55.92. Urlando will race the 200 free Saturday, but he is not swimming his customary butterfly events this week. Hali Flickinger, the Olympic bronze medalist in the 200 fly, cruised to a win in the women’s 400 free in 4:08.69, and another Arizona State-trained Olympian, Ryan Held, won the men’s 50 free in 22.10.

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