Defending NCAA Champion Clark Smith Misses 500 Free Final


Texas junior Clark Smith has missed both the A and B finals of the men’s 500 free on day 2 of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Swimming & Diving Championships.

Smith entered the meet as the top seed and the defending NCAA Champion in the event. His 4:08.82 from December was the 4th-fastest 500 yard free in history.

Early in the swim, Smith split 1:38.39 at the 200 and a 2:30.44 at the 300, which put him on pace for around a 4:10, which would’ve made him the top seed. At that point, however, his splits dramatically fell-off, relative to the rest of the field.

  • 1st 100 – 47.79
  • 2nd 100 – 50.60
  • 3rd 100 – 52.05
  • 4th 100 – 54.26
  • 5th 100 – 52.47

By comparison, the splits of the top seed Mitch D’Arrigo were:

  • 1st 100 – 48.85
  • 2nd 100 – 51.61
  • 3rd 100 – 51.46
  • 4th 100 – 50.94
  • 5th 100 – 48.62

Smith is also the 10th seed in the 200 free and the top seed in the 1650 free later in the meet. Smith split 1:33.28 in the 200 free on Wednesday’s 800 free relay, which Texas won in record-setting fashion.

Texas had three swimmers in the A-Final of the 500 free at NCAAs last year. Jonathan Roberts, who was 8th last year, finished 20th; and Sam Lewis, who was 7th last year, finished 30th.

In This Story




  2. Jim says:

    I think this is a bigger story than Caleb Dressel unfortunately. You are the fastest seed by 4 seconds in the 500, and not only do you not make it to the final, but you don’t even make the consolation heat?!? While most of Texas is likely to swim out of their minds this week, that is a bad sign for Smith.

    Eddie Reese said in his evaluation of the 800 free relay last night that he thought Smith went out too fast in his 1st 100, but maybe he just knew in his head he wasn’t there taper-wise and tried to overcompensate? If the meet is going to be close, this just gave the field a huge advantage over Texas.

    • Caleb says:

      meet’s not going to be that close I don’t think.

    • bigNowhere says:

      Yeah, I think he must be sick. But, Texas is so good this year that just losing one guy isn’t going to matter much.

    • Colorado Swimmer says:

      Smith was sitting in feetle position clutching his knees and rocking back and forth before his final. He was a mental wreck after having the slowest split on the relay last night.

    • Eddie Reese's relative says:

      He is not sick, he was too stressed out for being the defending champion from last year and had too much pressure and was too worried about the race and was running on no sleep.

  3. CaliBill says:

    I hear he doesn’t work very hard. Clearly showing. Embarrassing his team and coaching staff.

    • smurphyswimmer says:

      I think you are embarrassing yourself with this kind of comment.

    • Swammer says:

      I hear you didn’t think this post through very much. Clearly showing. Only embarrassing yourself.

    • SwimGeek says:

      You’re joking, right? Clark Smith is known as a legendary trainer. Just last night Eddie credited the development of Haas to Haas chasing (and losing) to Smith every day in practice. You don’t go a 8:33 1,000 without putting in work.

      This doesn’t seem like a missed taper. I have to assume he’s sick.

    • Swimmer says:

      This is obviously not an issue of hard work as he was 4:08 mid-season. Keep your uneducated comments to yourself. Your lack of knowledge on swimming is clearly showing.

    • bigNowhere says:

      Don’t feed the troll.

    • BLKSWMR says:

      How do not work hard and still go 4:08?

      • Swimmer33 says:

        Not commenting on Clark’s actual training. I have no clue what he does or how hard he works.

        But anybody can be fast and not work hard. Swimming is not a work-hard sport even though that is what 99.9% of the swimming world ignorantly believes. It is more about training correctly and having near perfect technique for your individual body type.

        Most top swimmers don’t necessary work hard. They work smart.

    • Mack says:

      Eddie Reese told me that Clark smith is the hardest worker he’s ever had and does unreal things in practice, you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about

    • Steve says:

      I agree Calibill. As I mentioned in a previous post, Texas always does this. They go fast in December then rarely touch those times. Should be a red flag for incoming recruits. Same with Conger breaking the 200 fly record in a time trial last year, then going slower at NCAA’s last year.

      • Back2Back says:

        “Texas always does this” Where’s that coming from? Were you unconscious last night during the 800 Free Relay? Or in the rest of prelims today?

        Recruits are smarter than paying attention to your post…

    • Back2Back says:

      What you hear about Clark not working hard exposes only your ignorance – or ‘CALI’ frame of mind

  4. swimdoc says:

    A real shame for him. He must be ill, so hope for a speedy recovery. He can use the setback as motivation for Trials.

  5. swimfan says:

    Either he wasn’t tapered or he just dove into a huge slice of humble pie.

    • swimdoc says:

      Pretty sure he can do that in practice any day of the week in heavy workload periods. No one ever misses their taper with Eddie. He’s sick.

  6. phelps swims 200 breast rio says:

    That’s quite a drop-off. He obviously has the speed. I wonder if he’s been sick.

  7. Swimmer A says:

    He doesn’t seem like an arrogant guy, so all these comments here and on the Day 2 prelims link suggesting that he’s coming back down to earth are just rude. If you’re swimmer then you know things don’t always go your way. No need to pile it on.

    • observer says:

      Just an observer from afar, but Clark has had several blow-ups at National meets…I remember a SCY Junior Nationals at UT when he got beat in the 100 Fly, would not stand on the award stand for his medal, then took last in the 200 Free by 3-4 seconds in A Final later in the session…I think later that summer he left summer juniors in the middle of the meet after a similar melt-down (If my memory serves me right, he was over 1:00 in the 100 Back A Final at summer juniors..last by several seconds). Eddie and Kubik took on a major talent and a major challenge, but they knew what they were getting into…It’ll be interesting to see if they can turn him around, or if he crashes the whole meet.

  8. SP 11 says:

    Glad he is a Junior and has another year to put on a show.

  9. Westco says:

    It’s a long meet.

    • SwimGeek says:

      It’s a long meet, true — but it’s not like he missed his turn in the 50. When a d-swimmer is 8 seconds off his time in the 500 . . . that usually makes for a brutal 1650. And after his 8:33 1000, he was the heavy favorite in the mile.

  10. Clueless says:

    I get why the article is about Clark Smith; he is the defending champion, after all. But this is a team sport, and Texas had three in the top 8 last year. Neither Jonathan Roberts nor Sam Lewis made it back tonight either. Not trying to draw any conclusions from this, only pointing it out.

    • Braden Keith says:

      That’s actually a very good point, Clueless. The reason Smith was focused upon is because he was so fast in December, and is the defending champion, but your observation is both valuable and interesting.

      • Chris says:

        Agreed, but Smith has had a great year: 3:47 in the 400 LCM, 4:08 and 8:33 in December, and 14:31 at Big 12s. Lewis has not had a good season in any event, with the exception of his A-cut in the mile, swum at a dual meet of all places. Roberts has had a good year in the 400 IM and 200 back, but not particularly in the 500.

        From what I’ve seen, Smith has been spot on what has been expected from him all season, until this race. He did start fast and cruise home in the 500 at Big 12s, but I didn’t see it in person and everybody assumed he was saving to get his NCAA cut in the mile later in the meet.

        All that being said, it’s a head-scratcher for sure, especially with training partner Haas being so on point.

    • Swimmer33 says:

      Swimming is definitely NOT a team sport. No one swimmer’s performance has any impact whatsoever on another swimmer’s performance. Although the world of swimming is trying to make it into a “team” sport to attract more attention and more participants, this is the worst possible mindset.

      All great swimmers I have ever known have gotten into the sport because of how individualized it is. If you want team then go play football or basketball.

      • Celery204 says:

        Man alive, this statement is unreal. Sure, everyone gets into it because of the individual nature of it, but almost everyone I know stuck with the hard workouts, tough injuries, and missed tapers because of the people and community around them. As someone who had that individualistic mentality at one point, I can personally tell you the best years of my swimming career were with a team that was supportive, motivated, and understanding of my goals and willing to help me out, just as much as I was willing to help them. When taper rolled around, we were all in it together – positive swims and reactions generate a better mindset, a mentality shift for the entire group, and just because it’s one person in the water doesn’t mean you aren’t swimming for and with the other 17+ swimmers on the roster. For a sport that’s incredibly mental, which is especially evident after Clark’s swim, the team aspect is what drives a lot of people to excel in big situations. It is not the worst possible mindset at all – it just means you never truly experienced what the word “team” meant in the swimming community.

      • Back2Back says:


        Name just one of those “great” swimmers you have ever know who got into it because it was ‘individualized’… There is no I in team and I hope no one want U in theirs…

        • Swimmer33 says:

          The FACT is that swimming is the MOST individual sport! Literally nobody can improve your swimming but you! Even in relays it is a collection of INDIVIDUAL TIMES. “Team” scores are a collection of INDIVIDUAL PLACES.

          Honestly, if you truly believe swimming is a team sport then you are so ignorant that I would say you would deny that 2+2=4. It’s just a stone cold, clear as day fact that swimming is an individual sport.

          The only reason it is labeled team is because coaches need their team to perform well to keep their jobs so they coerce swimmers into making it team-related. If your overall team does not perform then you are fired. It’s a shame because the best coaches care about making individuals better, not about making themselves look good by having teams perform better.

          I feel sorry for anybody who thinks swimming is a team sport. You will never know the accomplishments and fulfillment of achieving something on your own. Instead you have deluded yourself into believing that somebody else’s accomplishments are your own. That is just a sad way to live.

          • MadMax says:

            What a sad mentality you have. Again, proving the point Celery204 mentioned – you have no experience in a real team, and I feel sorry for anyone who feels, like you, that they have to take on their swimming career on their own.

            They (I, too) do feel accomplishment for fulfilling something on my own – I worked my tail off to get my times. But did I do it alone? Absolutely not, and I would never claim such a thing. What say you about the guy who gets 16th in an event, and goes a best time to score a point that wins the meet for his team by 2 points because he knocked out another person on another team from scoring position? Is that an individual accomplishment? Yes, but it’s magnified by the impact on the team standings and I can almost guarantee that kid stuck around because of the team atmosphere and people supporting him and wanting to be there, and he feels more pride in the winning point than the time he went. There is meaning and emotion in the team race just as much in individual results for swimmers – so why don’t you try stopping this cynical garbage and upvoting your own comments, and instead look at others in a way that’s both supportive and conducive to fast swimming – I can also guarantee Eddie Reese, Ted Knapp, and Dave Durden would be insulted by the accusations and general ignorance exhibited by your comment.

          • Back2Back says:

            Texas 200 Free Relay Individuals just took home the gold. Their individual photos will grace SwimSwam shortly…

          • Back2Back says:

            After the 400 Medley Relay – I think I don’t have to explain anymore how important it is to be a part of a team.


    • Stephen says:

      Sam Lewis has mono, just throwing it out there. He almost didn’t even enter the meet.

  11. Pvdh says:

    Eh bad swims happen. Remember when Piersol didn’t make the final in the 100 back at 09 worlds just after he broke the world record at nationals?

  12. Joel Lin says:

    He’s likely ill and physically not all here this weekend. It can happen. I hope to see him back to great form at Trials.

  13. bigNowhere says:

    I agree with all the comments saying he is probably sick. If he was feeling well, even with a missed taper he wouldn’t have dropped off that badly. Going 54 on the 4th 100 is really, really slow for a guy like him.

    If he is sick, I hope the Texas team is smart enough to quarantine him away from the other guys. I’d hate to see others go down; I want to see fast, out-of-this world swims!

  14. Pennsylvania Tuxedo says:

    Others were saying that he looked like he had no power whatsoever with kicking around the 300 mark where things started to go sour and got out limping a bit. Could be less sickness and more associated with a nasty cramp at the worst possible time. Hope he bounces back and gets after it in his other events.

  15. Marmot says:

    I just posted this comment in the “Live” thread – it is indeed huge news. I disagree though that it’s surprising.

    Since he break-out swim last year at NCAA’s where he surprised absolutely everyone in coming out of nowhere to win, he seems to not perform as well when the lights are brightest.

    2015 Summer Nationals – 3:47 in the 400m Free. Decent time – not particularly great. Zane Grothe placed ahead of him. 2nd Place in a pretty weak field with most big names at Worlds. This time is not much faster than Townley Haas’ lifetime best at this stage.

    2016 Arena Pro Swim, Austin – Scratches the 400m Free with a 3:47 entry time. Anticipated swim, huge meet, huge names all over the board. Would have been a great indicator of where he stacked up against some of the best in the world. Many here – including myself – wanted to see him swim this. Meet was swum in his “home” pool.

    2016 Big 12 Championships – Supposedly a “rabbit” in the 500? I still don’t understand this decision.

    2016 Big 12 Championships – Swims virtually nothing of “importance” in a major meet weeks before NCAA’s.

    2016 NCAA Championships – Swims a 1:33 in his 200 freestyle split on a relay after not swimming the event at Big 12’s. Gets beat by freshman teammate by ~3 seconds in a 200.

    2016 – NCAA Championships – Poor swim, places 21st out of prelims as the #1 seed. Huge expectations, was supposedly going to pass two Gold-medalists’ times (Dolan & Vanderkaay) on the all-time list. Now bystanders are saying he was limping, but wasn’t limping last night after his relay split.

    I have never finished a 500 freestyle and gotten out of the pool with a limp. I have never seen anyone finish a 500 freestyle and get out limping before. Puzzling.

    • Chris says:

      A bunch of fair points here, but he did the mile in 14:31 at Big 12s. I’d call that important.

      • Marmot says:

        I agree there – I honestly forgot about that. I will say that I don’t think he has a lot of expectations on him in the mile though.

    • samuel huntington says:

      ok, again my response to this comment.

      Nationals – he went a best time. And he lost to Zane who is a professional several years older – what’s the big deal with that?

      Pro Swim – it doesn’t mean anything that he scratched.

      Big 12 – 14:31 mile

      NCAAs – 200 split was about where expected, maybe half a second slower.

      Let’s wait until NCAAs is finished and Olympic Trials are over before suggesting he doesn’t perform well in bright lights.

    • SwimGeek says:

      I think his performance last year proves that he can perform under the lights. He swam an incredible race, which came down the wire — and swam an incredible final 50 to win. If he swam 4:11 tonight, you might say he choked. To go 4:17 in the morning — this has to be a physical/illness issue.

      • I have imploded too and it sucks says:

        I agree. As a swimmer who has swum very fast (relative to a high schooler), and who has also imploded like Smith did today, there is something wrong. My guess would be illness. due to how he swam in December, you can rule out technique or not being in shape. I understand how he is feeling right now having done it myself. So for my sake (to prove that it can be done) and his I hope he can bounce back soon. Now with all that being said I hope Zane Grothe makes the Olympic team over Smith.

      • Marmot says:

        In the other thread I mentioned that I think he swims much better when he’s a bit of an unknown or “darkhorse.” Last year he was an NCAA-“nobody” that hadn’t swam at the meet before. He admits as much in his post-race interview. Even after his prelims swim last year, no one thought he’d actually win it. Dan Wallace said it, etc. I still thought Quintero would pull something out of his hat.

        By bright lights, I mean swimming at a big meet as the top dog with everyone gunning for him to see what he’s got. He has not done that yet either in meters or yards.

        I absolutely admit to forgetting about his 1650 at Big 12’s – but that’s my point – he’s not as much of known-commodity in the mile as he is in the 500 and 200 – especially in yards.

        I think some here think I’m slamming him – I’m not. The kid rose to the top of the 500 pecking order in quick succession – we all want to see him swim fast and throw it down. I’m still incredulous as to how he swam that slow when he can swim a 4:08.8 in a meaningless practice meet.

  16. Jay ryan says:

    He sandbagged the last half of the 500 at Big 12’s. I found that disturbing at the time. It was a conference meet, albeit for a 3 team conference. You would never see Michael Phelps do that.

  17. Dunc1952 says:

    Whole lot of naked speculation going on here. Could be something as simple as the suggested cramp or getting some water down the wrong pipe around lap 12 or 14. Bottom line is I wouldn’t put any stock in any comments/conclusions unless rationally based on describable observations or they come from Clark or from Eddie, if they are inclined to speak on the subject at some point.

    • Marmot says:

      “Naked” speculation on the internet? What a phenomenon.

      We’re just talking about what we think happened. Something as crazy as one of the biggest college stars – the top seed of an event he was “supposed” to break the American/US Open record in – in one of the biggest meets of the year ADDING a huge chunk of time? Yeah that’s going to cause some discussion amongst swimming fans.

      • Coach Mike 1952 says:

        Hopefully Eddie Reese will comment about what happened when this meet is over, or sooner, if he deems it in the team’s – and Clark’s – best interests to do so,.

  18. PAC12BACKER says:

    Must be sick or injured. This stuff happens and can happen to anybody at the wrong time. Nobody is ever a lock coming into a meet.

  19. bigspeedotan says:

    Who knows what is going on with Clark Smith these first couple of days. He was even circle swimming his leg on the 8 free relay… Feel sorry for the dude though, must be rough.

  20. marley09 says:

    I blame Teri McKeever. Just because.

    • swimdoc says:

      I had the exact same thought. No one falls as flat on their face (save for a bunch of Olympians and all-time greats) as a Teri McKeever-coached kid. Or so I’ve read.

      • SwimFL says:

        So Dana Volmer… Olympic Champion in the 100 fly and part of Cal’s post-grad group obviously fell flat on her face. Let’s see, that includes Natalie Caughlin also. Rachel Bootsma is doing pretty darn well and has a legitimate shot in the 100 back to make the Rio team. I hope you both realize that this is Cal Berkley, one of the top schools in the country academically. It’s not so easy to just skip class and get your tutor to write your paper so that you can focus on swimming, even if you are an Olympic champion.

  21. swamfan says:

    Texas is so good this year that despite this upset, they are very likely to take the team title. However they had 3 swimmers score in this even last year and none of them qualified to swim tonight. Hopefully other teams will see this as evidence that Texas could be beaten, and CAL (or another school) will win the meet. It’s unlikely, but I would love to see an upset.

    Another question: how is texas SO stacked? How did they get so many great recruits considering the limited scholarship funds? I’m assuming many swimmers come from pretty well-off families and can afford to pay a decent chunk of tuition.

    • Back2Back says:

      As per Swimmer33 above who doesn’t get it, this is where TEAM comes in. I have no clue what happened around 200 yards into the race (no one else posting on here does either), but you can be assured the cohesion of that Texas team rallies around each other and if whatever happened today was fleeting – watch out! Go Clark! Go Horns!!!

  22. Chris says:

    I think part of the answer is getting lots of the many top flight guys in Texas, and having modest in-state tuition at that.

  23. BH says:

    I think Clark maybe saving for the 1650 and letting Townley Haas take over the 500 free, but of course this is all speculation, just hoping to see a better performance from him…

  24. Mat says:

    This is a huge disappointment. I was looking forward to seeing Smith go sub 408 and he didn’t even make consols… His 1650 better be out of this world to get rid of this swim’s disappointment

  25. Swim Mom says:

    I think Dr. Evil stole his MOJO. Don’t fret Clark, it was there the whole time!

  26. Ta says:

    I think everyone is overanalyzing this thing. I am sure he tried to train through the meet without much of a taper. He probably sacrificed sure victories in the 500/1650 to increase his chances for the Olympic team. Everyone can move along now nothing else to see here…

  27. crawler says:

    I don’t buy the mental meltdown thing. I think there is something physically wrong with him, perhaps having to do with breathing.

    In the 500 he was ahead and very smooth when he literally fell off the race. In the 800 relay, Reese said that he went out too fast; maybe Reese is keeping the pb under wrap. If Smith has breathing issues, he could have started the first 100 at his pace and then started to weaken in the next 100, but just made it. in that case, 500 was too long a race for him.

    We will see what happens with the 1,650, and at the end of the meet the truth will come out.

    • floppy says:

      Thought it was weird Reese said Clark went out too fast. Conger went out in 44.3 flat start. Haas and Schooling were out 43.3. Clark Smith was going out too fast in a 44.6??? Makes me think Reese doesn’t expect too much this weekend.

      • Steve-O Nolan says:

        Smith doesn’t have the speed those guys have, though. So he can go out slower than them, but still too fast for him.

    • Chris says:

      I think there might be something to this. Townley Haas’ comment on video suggests as much. At any rate, I hope Clark is OK and not beating himself up too much for it. Would love to see him rally for a mile win on Saturday. Great to see the guys rise up in such a big way Thursday night, with the great relays, and Haas and Licon were studs. I think Conger’s 18.7 and 41.2 freestyle splits were actually the *worst* Texas swims of Thursday night. Everything else done by everybody was a personal best. Pretty stout night.

      Also, I think Eddie said Clark “overswam” his 200. The conference meet results do show him going out slower and bringing a monster 2nd 100.

  28. Its that time says:

    Looks like it’s time for Clark to hang up the goggles and retire. A shame indeed.

  29. EX Swimmer says:

    ITS THAT TIME I can’t believe you said that. Being an ex swimmer myself, swimmers have off swims, believe me, especially top ranked – world record holders, Graig Beardsley ( didn’t even make the Olympic Team in 84. I can’t believe you would make such a comment – you have no idea what kind of pressure swimmers put on themselves .

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Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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