Regan Smith is back and ready for battle at the Paris Olympics, where she thinks a 100m backstroke duel with Australian Kaylee McKeown could produce a historic result.
Smith, 22, clocked a world record 57.10sec to win the 100m back at the US Olympic swimming trials this week, regaining the world mark she first claimed as a 17-year-old in 2019 — when she also set a 200m back world record.
A crisis of confidence and drop in form saw Smith settle for two silver medals and a bronze at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics, where McKeown won the 100m and 200m backstroke.
The Aussie, who first claimed the 100m back world record in 2021, lowered both the 100m and 200m marks in 2023 and clocked the second-fastest 200m backstroke time ever at the Australian trials this month.
After watching McKeown’s rise, Smith, who has been re-energized by working with coach Bob Bowman, former mentor of Olympic superstar Michael Phelps, was thrilled to break out of her backstroke doldrums weeks before an expected meeting with the Australian star on the sport’s biggest stage.
“I think 56 (seconds) is a possibility, for sure,” Smith said. “Whether it’s me or one of my competitors, who knows. But I’m not going to sell myself short, absolutely not.”
Only five women have broken 58 seconds in the 100m back and all of them will be in Paris: Smith, McKeown, Aussie Mollie O’Callaghan, Canadian Kylie Masse and American Katharine Berkoff, who joined the club with her runner-up finish to Smith at trials.
Even if O’Callaghan opts out of the backstroke to focus on other events, it promises to be a thriller, and Smith expects to be in the thick of it.
“That was an amazing race but it wasn’t a perfect race,” Smith said of her record-setting trials final. “I know there’s things that I can clean up and do better, and I’m going to work towards that.”
Smith, who also won the 200m butterfly and 200m backstroke in Indy to line up a trio of individual events in Paris, said the feeling of her world record swim was “so different” to her first five years ago.
“When you’re 17, when you’re a teenager and I had not really done much to my name yet — it was very easy,” she said. “I had no pressure on me. Nobody really expected much out of me, and so it was so easy to walk into races feeling so fearless and not really caring what the outcome was.
“I really just shocked myself at that meet in 2019 because I didn’t believe I was capable of it.
“Now tonight, I’m in a much different place in my life. I’m a lot older, obviously. The pressure is a lot different.
“But I think I’ve learned a lot over these five years, and I’ve had a lot of lows, in backstroke, in particular.”
Smith said she felt it was a mental block that kept her from progressing in the backstroke.
“For a long time, I viewed swimming as like a job, and it was a business trip. I think there’s a time and a place for that. Yes, I have a job to do, but at the same time this is just fun, and thank God it’s a sport. This isn’t life or death.
“I just want to lean into the fun side 100% and I think that just makes it a lot easier to go out there and let rip and give your best effort every single time. And I know Kaylee will.”

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