World Record-Holder Regan Smith To Defer Stanford Enrollment In Olympic Year

World champion backstroker and #1-ranked NCAA prospect Regan Smith will take a gap year from college competition in 2020-2021.

Smith confirmed the news to SwimSwam today, saying she and Stanford coach Greg Meehan had talked through the decision together.

“After talking a lot with Greg, we just decided that it would be better for me and my training to have more consistency at home,” Smith said.

“This was a really, really hard decision to make. Especially because I felt so firm for so long about going off to school this fall.”

Smith said she was fully ready to make the jump to college level, but that the ongoing uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic forced her to re-evaluate a move across the country. Smith will instead remain in Minnesota, training with coach Mike Parratto and her longtime Riptide Swim Club. She won’t begin taking classes through Stanford, but says she’s looking into taking online courses of some kind to stay connected to an academic routine during her gap year.

“He [Meehan] was so unbelievably understanding,” Smith said, while she was weighing all the factors in her decision. “He was working extensively with me and being so patient with me.

“I’m really disappointed and sad,” Smith said of delaying her Stanford career. “But I know that this will probably be the best for me. I think this will give me the best chance to have a strong year at home with some more consistent training, and then hopefully be able to have a more normal freshman year next year.”

“I have really appreciated Regan and her family’s approach to this conversation over the past 18 months,” Meehan said. “Of course, the original plan was easy: enroll after the Games in 2020. Then we had another plan to enroll this fall with the Games being postponed to 2021. Now we have a new plan.

“The reality is things do change and we all need to be flexible. The most important thing for Stanford was to support a plan that made the most sense for Regan. This new plan is exactly that.”

Smith is one of the best high school swimming prospects in history. The summer before her senior year of high school, Smith won the 2019 World Championships gold medal in the 200 back and broke world records in both the 200-meter back and the 100-meter back. The latter came while leading off the American world record-breaking women’s medley relay.

Smith had originally verbally committed to Stanford. As a 2020 high school grad, she would have been able to remain in Minnesota through the 2020 Olympic Trials and 2020 Tokyo Olympics, keeping her training situation stable through her bid for her first Olympic berth.

But the worldwide coronavirus pandemic forced a one-year postponement of both the Olympics and Olympic Trials. Smith will now effectively follow in the footsteps of former Stanford standout Katie Ledeckywho deferred her college enrollment one year, joining Stanford just after the 2016 Rio Olympics.

It’s a big blow to Stanford’s 2021 NCAA title hopes. The Cardinal have won three straight collegiate national titles, but were expected to face a stiff challenge from Virginia even with Smith on the roster. Smith’s deferral also sets up another intriguing Stanford-Virginia battle next season, when Stanford should add Smith and Virginia is expected to add elite sprint prospect Gretchen Walsh as a freshman in the fall of 2021.

A few more interesting notes from our conversation with Smith:

  • Smith is still very excited to compete at the NCAA level, and hopes to compete across a full, four-year college career. “I really would like to swim the full four years,” Smith said. “I know that things could change for me down the line, but as of now, I’d really like to swim the full four years.”
  • As for her Olympic Trials lineup, Smith confirmed the three events she’s widely expected to compete in: the 100 back, 200 back and 200 fly. She said the 100 fly was still a possibility, but cited a tough 100 back/100 fly double and deep fields in both races as complicated factors. “I think I may have to pick the 100 backstroke over the 100 butterfly, but if there’s a way I can fit them both in there, I’d really like to do that,” she said.
  • With another year to prepare, Smith said looking at a relay-distance freestyle event could also be an option, but said backstroke and butterfly were her primary focuses for the time being.
  • Under pandemic restrictions, Smith said her training has been “a bit limited,” but she’s had enough pool access to swim six days a week, though without any doubles. “Sometimes I wish we could be doing a little bit more, but I’m really thankful for how often I am able to be in the water, considering the circumstances,” she said.
  • Smith noted that long course pool space can be hard to come by in Minnesota. But she’s been able to train at an outdoor long course pool about three times a week, and is working on setting up long course training opportunities at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center for the winter.

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2 years ago

Of comparable talents in this situation, Ledecky and Franklin both chose the college route. Going a little further back, Thorpe and Phelps both went pro pretty early (both had Worlds golds and WRs under their belts already I think).

2 years ago

Her window of opportunity to go pro after Tokyo is perfect given that once she’s off the post-Olympic media darlings press tour, it’ll be 2022 and time to start thinking about Paris. It’s a lot easier to stay in the public eye for two years instead of four. The timing going into the next quad is too amazing to pass up.

2 years ago

If she turns pro does she still get to attend Stanford? (i.e. her admission is not contingent)

Reply to  John
2 years ago

That’s correct. I don’t think any school would ever pull admission if a kid quit the team they’re on.

Reply to  Braden Keith
2 years ago

Like that time the Loughlin kids decided they didn’t want to be on the rowing team 🤭

2 years ago

she should reallllllllly go pro. not only will she become very rich (almost overnight), but also very famous. her endorsements will catapult her into the national, non swimming spotlight, much like it did for (then already pro) michael phelps in ‘04 before and after athens and beyond. i think if she goes pro this year she will have a similar career (including fame and fortune) trajectory of an athlete like shawn johnson. being pro is more than just how much money she’d make, but also the sheer incredible amount of attention she’ll get across the board. ditch college athletics, it’s seriously overrated (to the extent of giving up all of the aforementioned)
also, we know that she pretty much… Read more »

2 years ago

I think she made a good decision. Staying at home will probably allow her to train more consistently and predictably, as she has pool access and is already trying to set up long course training opportunities. Even of the Olympics can’t go on, this still allows her to train better and could ultimately benefit Stanford, as she will probably be stronger and faster when she arrives.
I also support her decision to compete for all 4 years. Everyone is saying she should just go pro but I think she would definitely be much better off if she swam all 4 years. The experience will ultimately benefit her. Even if she doesn’t burn out, the experience will be very important… Read more »

Corn Pop
2 years ago

Regan has ReclaImed Her Time !

2 years ago

Glad she’s making the right choice for her, wish her happy training. Kill 2021 Olympics, the 2022/23 NCAAs and worlds, then go pro a year before 2024 as one of the faces of Team USA? Whatever makes her happy is the right call. Hopefully the NCAA catches up to the times before she has to make a hard decision. Honestly, if someone like her can bring in more money than the weight of her scholarship, she should be able to give up that scholarship to another and continue competing and taking classes. Helps the school basically get a free tuition paying athlete, but maybe that makes too much sense.

Reply to  Ragnar
2 years ago

“then go pro a year before 2024 as one of the faces of Team USA?”

While I think she is a big girl and can make her own decision without everyone else’s input, there is no guarantee this will be the case.

Even if she is still around and swimming fast, another young woman will probably show up and be the new exciting face of the women’s team (like she is relative to ledecky) and steal some of that shine. That doesn’t mean Ledecky (and her potentially in 2024) won’t still make plenty, but you seem to only get one shot generally.

Sidewalk Chalk
2 years ago

This makes total sense. Regan’s club has dedicated pool space that can be open even if college pools are closed.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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