What Could Regan Smith’s 2020 Olympic Trials Lineup Look Like?

An age group phenom and the 200-yard backstroke American record-holder, Regan Smith was already a huge name in the United States. This week, she made her introduction to the world with her world record in the 200-meter backstroke semifinals at Worlds this week. Her time of 2:03.35 blew past the 2012 WR set in London when Missy Franklin, one of the best American swimmers of all time, won Olympic gold in 2:04.06. Smith followed that with another huge swim at 2:03.69 (off of an absurd 59.45 lead 100) to win the gold by 2.57 seconds in Gwangju.

Smith only qualified for the World Championships in the 200 back at the 2018 US Nationals, having placed third in the 100 back, her second-best event, behind Kathleen Baker and Olivia Smoliga. While it’s anticipated that she might get a chance to race the finals of the 4×100 medley relay as the backstroke leg, Smith is indubitably the real deal right now despite only getting a crack at two of her events.

She’ll get a fuller slate of events, though, at the 2020 Olympic Trials, where she’s expected to qualify for more than just one event for Tokyo. Let’s dig into what her immense improvements in the 200 back might mean for her other events, and what that could look like at the 2020 Olympic Trials.

First, let’s check out her times from the 2017-18 short course season, and compare them to how they translated to summer of 2018.

2017-18 SCY 2018 LCM
100 BACK 50.84 58.83
200 BACK 1:48.30 2:06.43
100 FLY 51.63 58.59
200 FLY 1:53.50 2:07.42
100 FREE 48.81 57.62
200 FREE 1:44.49 2:04.63
500/400 FREE 4:41.69 4:14.34

Her backstroke was far-and-away her specialty in the 2017-18 season, but her improvements in long course were a bit modest. While 2018 was a huge year for her SCY times, she only took .12 off of her 2017 best in the 100m back, and took about seven-tenths off of her 2017 best in the 200m back. Still, she improved from 59.0/2:16.0 in the fly, her 200 fly entering elite range. She also went a lifetime best in the 400 free in 2018, but slipped from 56.5/2:01.9 in the 100/200 free to the above times.

Now, let’s look at the 2018-19 SCY season, and how that moved into what has been the best long course season of her life (even considering she’s only done one event fully rested in LCM this calendar year).

2018-19 SCY
2019 LCM (so far)
100 BACK 49.66 58.45
200 BACK 1:47.16 2:03.35*
100 FLY 50.45 58.52
200 FLY 1:51.24 2:08.58
100 FREE 48.07 55.73
200 FREE 1:43.27 1:58.44
500/400 FREE 4:37.10 4:10.33

*denotes a World Record time

Regan hit lifetime bests in the 2018-19 season in all of the above events in yards. She briefly held the 100 back American record with her 49.66 from the spring before Beata Nelson re-claimed it at NCAAs, while Smith’s massive effort in the 200 back still holds as the American record. Her fly came down by about 1.1 seconds in the 100, and by over two seconds in the 200. She also made huge leaps in the 200/500 free, and a considerable improvement in the 100 free, too.

This year, she’s obviously destroyed her 200 back time– she has improved it by more than THREE seconds after already being at world-class speed; her best before 2019, 2:06.43, would’ve gotten silver in the 200 back final in Gwangju, less than two-tenths behind gold. Her time of 59.45 at the feet in the first 100 of her 200 back tonight was absurd, nearly a second quicker than she went out when she set the WR in semis, and it was a full second faster than previous WR-holder Missy Franklin took her race out in 2012. The 59.45 would’ve also made the 100 back final at this meet.

Meanwhile, in 2019, Smith has already gone lifetime bests in the 100 back (by over three-tenths), the 100 fly (by .07), the 100 free (by eight-tenths), the 200 free (by more than three seconds), and the 400 free (by more than four seconds). All of those best times came from in-season meets, and we know what kind of form she’s in now. What would she be able to do in all of these events if she were to swim them this week? We’ll get an answer, most likely, in the 100 back in that medley relay, but we’ll have to wait and see on her other events.

With her best times from 2019 (and considering her 2:07.42 200 fly from last year), Smith is in the Olympic team conversation for both backstrokes (the favorite in both, at this point), both butterflies (probably more so the 200, but she’s made huge drops in SCY in fly this last season in both), and as for freestyle, at least the 4×200 free relay.

Below is the 2020 US Olympic Trials schedule. We’ve gone ahead and bolded all of the events that Smith may enter in addition to the expected 100/200 back.


Sunday, June 21 Sunday, June 21
Men’s 400 Individual Medley Men’s 400 Individual Medley – FINAL
Women’s 100 Butterfly Women’s 100 Butterfly – Semifinal
Men’s 400 Freestyle Men’s 400 Freestyle – FINAL
Women’s 400 Individual Medley Women’s 400 Individual Medley – FINAL
Men’s 100 Breaststroke Men’s 100 Breaststroke – Semifinal
Monday, June 22 Monday, June 22
Women’s 100 Backstroke Women’s 100 Butterfly – FINAL
Men’s 200 Freestyle Men’s 200 Freestyle – Semifinal
Women’s 100 Breaststroke Women’s 100 Breaststroke – Semifinal
Men’s 100 Backstroke Men’s 100 Breaststroke – FINAL
Women’s 400 Freestyle Women’s 400 Freestyle – FINAL
Men’s 100 Backstroke – Semifinal
Women’s 100 Backstroke – Semifinal
Tuesday, June 23 Tuesday, June 23
Women’s 200 Freestyle Women’s 200 Freestyle – Semifinal
Men’s 200 Butterfly Men’s 200 Freestyle – FINAL
Women’s 200 Individual Medley Women’s 100 Backstroke – FINAL
Women’s 1500 Freestyle Men’s 100 Backstroke – FINAL
Women’s 100 Breaststroke – FINAL
Men’s 200 Butterfly – Semifinal
Women’s 200 Individual Medley – Semifinal
Wednesday, June 24 Wednesday, June 24
Men’s 100 Freestyle Men’s 100 Freestyle – Semifinal
Women’s 200 Butterfly Women’s 200 Freestyle – FINAL
Men’s 200 Breaststroke Men’s 200 Butterfly – FINAL
Men’s 800 Freestyle Women’s 200 Butterfly – Semifinal
Men’s 200 Breaststroke – Semifinal
Women’s 200 Individual Medley – FINAL
Women’s 1500 Freestyle – FINAL
Thursday, June 25 Thursday, June 25
Women’s 100 Freestyle Men’s 800 Freestyle – FINAL
Men’s 200 Backstroke Men’s 200 Breaststroke – FINAL
Women’s 200 Breaststroke Women’s 100 Freestyle – Semifinal
Men’s 200 Individual Medley Men’s 200 Backstroke – Semifinal
Women’s 200 Butterfly – FINAL
Men’s 100 Freestyle – FINAL
Women’s 200 Breaststroke – Semifinal
Men’s 200 Individual Medley – Semifinal
Friday, June 26 Friday, June 26
Women’s 800 Freestyle Women’s 200 Breaststroke – FINAL
Men’s 100 Butterfly Men’s 200 Backstroke – FINAL
Women’s 200 Backstroke Women’s 200 Backstroke – Semifinal
Men’s 200 Individual Medley – FINAL
Women’s 100 Freestyle – FINAL
Men’s 100 Butterfly – Semifinal
Saturday, June 27 Saturday, June 27
Men’s 50 Freestyle Men’s 100 Butterfly – FINAL
Women’s 50 Freestyle Women’s 200 Backstroke – FINAL
Men’s 1500 Freestyle Women’s 800 Freestyle – FINAL
Men’s 50 Freestyle – Semifinal
Women’s 50 Freestyle – Semifinal
Sunday, June 28 Sunday, June 28
No Preliminaries Men’s 50 Freestyle – FINAL
Women’s 50 Freestyle – FINAL
Men’s 1500 Freestyle – FINAL

Based on this, there is one session where she’d potentially have a triple (night two). The 400 free is perhaps the event she’s least-focused on in this back/fly/free slate, and it wouldn’t be a guarantee that she’d even final in it. Other than that, she could feasibly get through this entire week without more than a double. That said, were she to qualify for Tokyo in all of these events, some of those doubles could become triples due to relay needs (besides the 200 free and/or 100 free, if she were to qualify relay-only and thus wouldn’t have to deal with the individual event again).

Considering her backstrokes are chief, we can keep those in. The 100 fly is the least-conflicting event with anything else; she’d get to do those semifinals without any other event the first night of Trials, and the final is at the opposite end of the night two program from the 100 back semifinals.

The 200 free semis are not long before the 100 back final, and then the 200 free final is not long before the 200 fly semis. Then, the 100 free semis are a bit in conflict with the 200 fly final, and then the 100 free final is shortly after the 200 back semis.

Of course, the conflicts in this potential schedule work off of the assumption that Smith would make it to the next round (semis, or finals) in all events. When looking exclusively at prelims, and ignoring the 400 free, she’d only have one event for each morning that she’s racing. So, she could simply do all of the prelims of these races, see how they go, and decide if she wants to go after that event through to semis and the final.

Taking out the freestyle altogether, the 100/200 back and 100/200 fly event lineup looks the most doable for her; the only time she’d have to double up at night would be night two, when she’d be still very fresh, and both races would be 100’s and at opposite ends of the lineup.

Past that, the 200 free is the closest she really is to making a relay, and that looks like the most likely fifth event if she were to add a fifth. She’d have the 200 free semis right before the 100 back final, and the final right before the 200 fly semifinals.

We don’t have any reason to doubt that the teenager Smith is able to pull tight doubles; she broke the American records in both backstrokes in yards this March about an hour apart. Having been 1:58-mid during the spring this year, 1:56 feels like a safe bet for what she might do fully rested, especially considering her backstroke at the 200 distance is already as insanely fast as it is, and that would have a great chance at top six if she makes that final.

What do you think Smith will go after at the 2020 Olympic Trials? Sound off in the comments with event and time predictions!

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I think the events she will realistically qualify in are the 100 and 200 back and then the 200 fly. I also think she will improve tons in the 200 free and get a relay spot there.

Wild Bill

Yes – most reasonable approach


I think that she should maybe try 200 back. Seems like she’s pretty good at it…


Where do the IM times stand?


1:56/2:15 and 4:14/doesn’t have a recent time. in the past, her breastroke has been holding her back, but now since she’s world-class in the other three strokes, i don’t think it would matter as much. i think she could be great at both events if she focused on them!

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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