CJ Smith

Clayton (CJ) Smith Mid-Distance/Distance Freestyle

Personal Life

CJ Smith was born on November 22, 1992 to parents Chris and Kaci Smith. Smith grew up in Wilmette, Illinois, and trained for the YWCA Flying Fish in Evanston, IL. Smith swam for New Trier HS, which has had a phenomenal swim program for years. Despite only going into his freshman year with a best time of 5:10.07 in the 500 yard freestyle, Smith rose in the ranks of the IHSA juggernaut New Trier, where he debuted his 500 free at the 2009 IHSA State meet as a sophomore, placing 16th in 4:40.82, four spots out of finals. His junior year, he catapulted himself into the A final of the 500 and the B final of the 200 yard freestyle, finishing 2nd and 8th, respectively. Smith’s senior year marked the beginning of what would be a run for four straight state titles on the girls side and three straight for the boys. He contributed to the boys first title of their run in 2011 by placing 5th in the 200 free (1:41.39) and repeating as runner-up in the 500 (4:28.90).

College Swimming


Smith made an impact right away for the University of Minnesota’s swim program, where he stretched his normal 200-500 routine from high school to include the 1650 yard freestyle. In the 1650, he placed 4th at the 2012 Big Ten Championships (15:02.27) and 22nd in the 500 (4:22.09). He went on to swim both events at the 2012 NCAA Championships. Despite a slight disappointment in the 500, placing 36th and gaining almost two seconds, Smith cashed in big time in the 1650 on the final day of the meet, dropping almost 10 seconds from his Big Ten swim to go 14:52.73 to earn 4 points, his first for the Gophers.


As a sophomore, Smith swam in the 200, 500, and 1650 free at the 2013 Big Ten Champs. He placed 32nd in the 200 (1:38.58), swam a 4:20.49 in prelims to finish 12th in the 500, and finished 5th in the 1650 (14:54.21), just outside of the Michigan distance group that went 1-4. At NCAA’s, Smith gained again in the 500 free, but was back in the 1650 in the exact time he went at Big Tens, down to the hundredth. It was only fitting that he placed 13th, just as he did the year before.


Smith moved up to 11th in the 2014 Big Ten Champs in the 500 free and broke 4:20.00 for the first time (4:19.98). He also moved up in the 1650 from the year prior, placing 4th rather than 5th with a time of 14:56.18, cracking the Michigan distance gauntlet by edging then-senior Sean Ryan, who touched at 14:58.27 for 5th. In the 200 free, he placed 40th with a time of 1:39.40. Once again, he couldn’t hold onto his 500 time from Big Tens, dropping to 4:24.03 for 46th place at NCAAs. He shaved off several hundredths in the 1650 for 16th place (14:56.09), marking his third straight year scoring in the mile for the Gophers.


In his final year as Gopher, Smith tore through the 4:20 barrier twice at the 2015 Big Ten Champs in the 500 free, notching a personal best of 4:18.93 in prelims. He followed that up with 4:19.97 in finals to take 8th place in his first A-final appearance in the 500. Then, in his specialty, the 1650, Smith put up another personal best (14:52.34) to take third place overall. That would be his fastest swim in that race since 2012, when he was a freshman.

Smith, at NCAAs, grabbed 35th in the 500 (4:20.37) and touched at 22nd in the mile (14:58.52) to round out his collegiate swimming career.

National/International Swimming

2011 US Summer Nationals/Jr Nationals

Smith’s first national swim came at the 2011 USA National Championships, where he dropped over 12 seconds in the 1500 meter freestyle, going 15:43.37 to place 24th. One week later at the USA Junior National Championships, he broke the 4:00 barrier in the 400 meter freestyle, going 3:59.57 in prelims to take 10th place in the A final. His time of 15:48.97 earned him his lucky 13th place overall in the 1500. He finished up his summer training with two Olympic Trials cuts under his belt before any college training.

2012 Olympic Trials/US Open

At Trials, Smith brought his A-game. He dropped down to 3:57.95 in the 400, placing 42nd. In the 1500, he made huge improvements, getting all the way down under 15:30 (15:29.19) to place none other than 13th. Just over a month later, Smith competed at the 2012 US Open, where he continued to whittle down his times in his 400-1500 combo. He opened in the 1500 with a strong 5th place finish, lopping off more than 3 seconds from his former best at Trials, going 15:26.05. Smith then snuck into the A final of the 400 free, posting a new best of 3:56.08, and would end up finishing 8th in finals.

2013 US Open

Smith couldn’t quite match his 1500 from the 2012 US Open, but put up a strong 15:28.64 to place 9th overall at the 2013 US Open. Due to a large and talented field in the 400 free, Smith’s prelims swim of 3:56.95 could only get him into the C final. Nevertheless, he dropped down to 3:55.52, winning the C final as well as earning himself a personal best.

2014 US Summer Nationals

At the 2014 US Nationals, Smith had a fantastic showing, despite being almost four seconds slower in his mile at NCAAs than he was freshman year. He finished 25th in the 400 free with a new best time of 3:54.78 and grabbed 12th in the 1500 free, dropping almost ten seconds from his best time to touch at 15:16.96, just tenths away from the top ten.

–Originally developed by Karl Ortegon

Best Times

Course Event Time Date Meet
lcm 200 Free 1:54.54 07/17/14 Speedo Champions Series Central Zone
Iowa City, IA
lcm 400 Free 3:54.78 08/06/14 US Summer Nationals
Irvine, CA
lcm 800 Free 8:16.12 06/25/15 Fran Crippen SMOC
Mission Viejo, CA
lcm 1500 Free 15:16.96 08/06/14 US Summer Nationals
Irvine, CA
Gopher Sports Dorothy Sheppard Aquatic Center University of Minnesota (photo: Mike Lewis, Ola Vista Photography) Photo courtesy of Jared Anderson.