Big Ten breaststroke champion Kierra Smith is planning to take an “Olympic redshirt” season between her junior and senior years at the University of Minnesota to prepare for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Smith says she plans to spend the fall semester at Minnesota continuing her training with Kelly Kremer, and then to return to her native Kelowna, British Columbia to complete her training for the April Olympic Trials. Those trials will be held in April in Toronto.
“This time will allow me the freedom to focus all of my training energy for the Olympic Trials without negatively affecting my Minnesota teammates,” Smith said. “I want to focus on long course exclusively after Minnesota gets back from their training trip to Hawaii, so in January I’ll fly back home to Kelowna. I’ll do the September to January grind work with Kelly (Kremer) and the Gophers, then fly back to Kelowna to spend some time with (Kelowna coach) Emil (Dimitrov).”
Back home in British Columbia, Smith lives across the street from a long course pool, which ups the convenience and focus factor. She also says that her spring training will be a fluid situation.
“If Emil gets too busy travelling with the home club, I can always jump back to Minneapolis for a week. If Kelly is travelling with the men’s team, I’ll fly home for a week. Taking a redshirt will allow me the flexibility to jump back and forth.”
“I’m fortunate enough to have not just one of the best breaststroke coaches in the world, but two of the best breaststroke coaches in the world,” Smith said of her plan. “I trust them both completely with the planning and training.”
Smith came to Minnesota as a touted prospect, but in two-plus seasons there her career arch has risen even further. 2014 was her breakthrough season, when she won the Big Ten Championship in the 100 and 200 yard breaststrokes, and placed 6th in the 200 at NCAA’s.
In the summer, in long course, her fortunes rose even further when she was the top seed coming out of prelims in the 200 breaststroke at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Smith will need her focus on long course to qualify for the Canadian team, where competition in the women’s breaststroke group is brutal. The list includes names like Martha McCabe, Tera van Beilen, Ashley McGregor, Rachel Nicol, Tianna Rissling, and young up-and-comers like Mary-Sophie Harvey.
Smith falls into a subset of NCAA swimmers that are put in a tough position in Olympic years. Specifically, athletes from Canada and Australia, where the Olympic Trials are highly competitive, but also fall in the same time-window as the NCAA Championships. This means that athletes must choose to put their full focus on one meet or the other, or try to extend a taper through both (all while travelling).