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Giles Smith: A Contender

8/31/2011

By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent

A few weeks ago, I asked Jeff Commings, Swimming World’s Associate Producer, whom he thought were some of the African American “names to watch” leading up to the Olympic Trials. One name that he mentioned was Giles Smith. Commings then alluded to an interview he conducted with Smith just a few weeks ago, earlier this month at the ConocoPhillips USA National Championships:

“I lost a lot of confidence at Tennessee,” Smith said. “Now I’m getting it all back.”

Giles Smith was one of the most highly touted swimming recruits in the nation leading into the 2009 academic year. He was the first-ever swimmer to break the National Independent High School “20-second barrier.”

But what caught the mass-media’s attention was not the feat itself, but the degree to which Giles smashed the record. Giles blasted a sizzling 19.74 while a senior in high school. Since then, he’s been viewed as a sprinting wunderkind, and a potential future face of sprinting in the United States. (Note: Giles doesn’t hold the overall high school record, which belongs to Jimmy Feigen).

But when Smith arrived at the University of Tennessee, he faltered, stumbled, and failed to swim as fast as he wanted. He swam nearly a half-second slower at the SEC Championships in the 50yd. freestyle, and failed to final in the 100yd. butterfly.

And that’s when Smith decided to make some changes. Since his experience at UT, the Maryland native transferred to another region altogether, Arizona University, where, according to my Nationals interview with Commings, Smith has regained his once-lost swagger.

“Coach Demont and Coach Eric Hansen really helped me,” Smith said. “Realized my potential.”

This summer at the ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships, Smith looked pretty stellar. In the preliminaries of the 100m butterfly, Smith posted a sizzling time of 52.5 (he finished with a 52.8 in the championship heat). With improvement, Smith could do some major damage in Nebraska next summer.

Anyone knows in sprinting, the recipe for success is a clear head, immeasurable talent, and poised confidence. Smith’s potential is sky-high. Like many record-breaking sprinters graduating from high school, Smith’s initial collegiate performance was a work-in-progress. But with a few tweaks to the recipe, Smith looks to fill the shoes bestowed on him by overwhelming expectation. He’s got the talent.

Now, he’s got the confidence.

Giles’ performance at this summer’s ConocoPhillips USA Swimming National Championships was a solid platform-launching declaration of his intentions to be a dark horse in Omaha. His timing couldn’t be more perfect. And it will be interesting to follow his progress throughout this collegiate season at Arizona. Smith is one of quite a few rising African American swimmers in the United States who seemingly has the potential to accomplish anything.

“Coaches have instilled this thing about being tough,” Smith said in his interview.” If you want to swim and be a Wildcat, you gotta be tough.”