By Bob Schaller//Correspondent | Tuesday, April 25, 2017
What a year for Clark Smith. NCAA Championship at the University of Texas last year, Olympic Trials success making the 4 x 200 relay that led to gold in Rio, and then another NCAA Championship with the Longhorns in his senior year last month. He talks about what he’s learned, and where he’s headed, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. How do you manage to help win an NCAA title after coming back from Rio?
Clark: For the most part. I didn’t go the times I wanted to -- but you don’t get extra points for going a certain time. The 200 free the second day, I wish I would’ve gotten a (best) time. But I can’t complain with how it ended.
2. There wasn’t any effects of the Olympics that caused you to wear down or need time off?
Clark: A lot of people talk about post-Olympic fatigue or blues. I didn’t really experience that. I was on the relay and helped get the team to the final, but I wasn’t on the relay at night. I was thankful I was part of it, but I knew I had work to do and there were still things I wanted to accomplish in the sport.
3. How’d you end up making the relay team for Rio?
Clark: In the 400 free, I took it out too hard. So it didn’t work out how I wanted it to. Honestly, I thought making the 800 free relay would be the hardest thing of all for me. So to make the team in that felt good. Trials is a difficult meet, because even if you are doing well, someone you know and care about is not. So it’s kind of a depressing meet at times because so few are satisfied and so many are disappointed -- a good experience for some, and for others maybe not so much.
4. And then winning a title coming back to Texas, was that the plan?
Clark: If you think about it all at once, you bite off more than you can chew. You take it one piece at a time. I didn’t have the meet I wanted to at NCAAs (in 2016). And I didn’t even make it to NCAAs my freshman year, and on top of that we had to watch Cal win it in our own pool -- that was tough. I was able to take that experience and apply it to getting better.
5. So last year you didn’t have a good NCAAs?
Clark: Even though I had a bad meet, it still meant a lot being part of a team that won -- and then going with that group of guys to Trials. You don’t let (the NCAA performance) get to you. It didn’t bother me. After Trials and the Games, what happened at NCAAs kept me going forward to the finish of my collegiate career. Sometimes, if you handle it right, disappointment can lead to good things -- it just depends on how you take it.
6. Hard to believe your career at UT-Austin is over?
Clark: We had our team banquet (Saturday) and they were throwing out statistics about how every record on our boards (in the pool) is from our team except the 100 free, which Jimmy Feigen has. But every other record is held by someone on this year’s team. That’s incredible. It’s the same thing with how we did at NCAAs, putting multiple people in the top 3 or 5 in events. When you put it all together, we’re very proud of what we were able to do as a team. And to do it in a program that had the Peirsols, Hansens, Crockers and Walkers, it’s just weird to think about -- those guys were my idols.
7. Will Licon, you, Jack Conger, Townley Haas, Joseph Schooling -- how competitive is that group?
Clark: We’re so competitive but we get along. It’s a perfect dynamic. Once you meet them and get to know them -- before they do those amazing things, it makes sense when they do something that other people are amazed by. But you were there and saw them work on it, so them doing that makes sense because you knew they were ready for it.
8. How is Eddie Reese so funny still -- new material?
Clark: Eddie’s jokes are so funny because he believes they are (laughs) funny. Seriously though, I could not have picked a better coaching group. I had no trouble picking a college. My dad swam for Eddie. So it has seemed like I was 8 or 9 that it was just going to happen for me. To be a small part of Eddie’s legacy and his 13th title is a dream come true for me.
9. How did you get here, in terms of swimming?
Clark: I had a lot of support. I can’t take the credit for my success. I had a coach, Nick Frasersmith, in club and at Regis Jesuit High School, who was outstanding. Nick developed the Colorado Stars and then Denver Swim Academy.
10. Was it a struggle at UT to repeat -- and then three-peat?
Clark: You have the right guys, and it’s not such a struggle. It’s not easy to do, but you just swim for each other. Going into NCAAs, I wasn’t favored to win. Every year, you have to prove yourself. Having success one year doesn’t mean you’ll be better or even have the same success next year. You get back in, do the work, and re-establish yourself.
11. How tough do you have to be to do the 200 free and the mile?
Clark: I didn’t think the mile would be that bad. And I don’t think of myself as tough -- I don’t think (laughs) I am at all, actually.
12. I don’t want to sound out of place here but if Michael Phelps had to lose, it seems pretty neat that Joseph Schooling would represent Singapore with a Phelpsian performance in a stacked field, didn’t it?
Clark: There is nothing wrong with saying that. When Joe won, I was as happy as I was when any American won. And it’s nice to see a fresh face win an event. As great as Michael is, Joe broke Ian Crocker’s textile world record -- it is so cool to see your friend do such an amazing thing.
13. What did UT do for you academically and how do you like Austin?
Clark: I knew going in the University of Texas is a great public university. Austin felt like home before I even got here. I had come to the Longhorn Swim Camp as a 14 or 15 year old so I had swam with Eddie and was familiar with the guys and post-grads when I got here.
14. Favorite place for food in Austin?
Clark: So many (pause). There’s this taco place -- Torchy’s -- that has fried balls of cookie dough that they call (Lil’) Nookies and they are...man, I could eat a dozen of those!
15. Being from Colorado like you, I think of Austin as a cross between Denver and Berkeley -- accurate?
Clark: To be honest, I’ve never been to Berkeley. It’s hard to explain to people how unique the atmosphere is in Austin, or how great it is on campus. Austin just has a good feel. People like being here, or even just visiting here. My parents are planning on moving back here, which is pretty neat. And I would like to live here when I am done swimming and graduate.
16. What is your major and when will you graduate?
Clark: Kinesiology. I’ll probably be done next spring and try to get my master’s if I get in. And when I am done I am considering the military if I can -- if they’ll take me.
17. How soon did you realize when you got to Austin what your freshman class and team was like?
Clark: I think when I committed and saw who was in my class, my Dad saw it first -- he pulled me aside, and said I was part of a team that could win it, We were second my freshman year, so it’s been an exciting three years since then -- so we lived up to that for a majority of our time together.
18. Obviously as you know, I’m in Austin now too and love seeing the Tower light up -- does that ever get old to you?
Clark: No, never, especially when (laughs) the swim team is the only one lighting it up! That makes it even better. And it certainly worked out well after losing it the first year to winning it the last three -- had that been the other way around, winning the first three and losing it this year, that would have been the worst feeling. It was the same way for me in high school, we lost my first year at state and then won it the next three, so it played out the same way.
19. You mentioned not making NCAAs as a freshman -- what happened?
Clark: Freshman year was a culmination of a lot of things. I don’t think my training was right -- I was doing the 100 and 200 fly, and you can (laughs) tell by the results, I’m not a 100 swimmer. I was doing the 100 fly, 200 fly and the 500 free, so my events did not correlate well together. I don’t think I was doing enough yardage. I just wasn’t prepared well. So we got after it and figured it out. I was also on medicine for my OCD and so I wasn’t getting nervous before races -- it’s also an anti-anxiety drug. And you need to be able to get up for your races, and I wasn’t up or excited. Once we figured that out, I got back into it. So when things go wrong it’s not usually just one thing, but usually four or five things you need to understand and fix.
20. Your Mom, Tori, being an Olympian -- your sisters swam in college at Akron and SMU -- but your Mother being an Olympian in 1984, did she have any advice before Rio?
Clark: The biggest thing with my Mom is she doesn’t want me to take the sport too seriously or put too much pressure on myself. I don’t have parents who are overbearing or who live through me. I am pretty lucky to have parents who were in the sport and are very well-informed, but who don’t put any pressure on me.