By Alex Abrams//Red Line Editorial | Thursday, August 1, 2019
Regan Smith and Luca Urlando are only 17 years old, still too young to vote in a presidential election or rent a car. Yet both teenagers showed on the first night of the 2019 Phillips 66 National Championships that they’re old enough to beat a crowded field of talented American swimmers.
In the process, Smith and Urlando offered more signs Wednesday for why they’re both considered rising American stars as the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 quickly approach in less than a year.
Smith, who is coming off a record-breaking performance at last week’s 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, continued her momentum as nationals got underway Wedneday in Stanford, California, with the Minnesota native winning the women’s 200-meter butterfly with a personal-best time of 2:07.26.
Smith’s win came just days after she broke a pair world records at the world championships. She shattered Missy Franklin’s world record in the 200-meter backstroke (2:03.35) on Friday and helped the Americans win the 4x100-meter medley relay in a world-record time of 3:50:40 on Sunday in South Korea.
Smith built off her star-making performance at the world championships on the first day of the national championships at Stanford University. She got out fast enough in the first event of the finals to edge fellow teenagers Lillie Nordmann (2:07.43) and Dakota Luther (2:07.76).
It was a promising start for Team USA, which could rely on a handful of teenagers to rack up medals next year in Tokyo.
Following Smith in the pool, fellow teenager Urlando won the men’s 200-meter butterfly with a time of 1:54.92. He beat runner-up Miles Smachlo by more than a second and continued to show why his name is already being included in the same conversation as Michael Phelps.
Urlando, who is from Sacramento, California, broke Phelps’ age-group national record in the 200 fly with a time of 1:53.84 earlier this season, and the teenager continued his progression by winning the event while competing just down the road from his hometown.
The teenagers’ performances highlighted the first of five days at the national championships, which are part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity, though the teens were hardly alone in putting down impressive performances Wednesday.
Olympic relay gold medalist Ryan Held provided a glimpse of what was to come when he posted a time of 47.43 seconds in the prelims of the men’s 100-meter free earlier in the day on Wednesday, breaking the U.S. Open record. A few hours later, during the finals, he excited a national TV audience and NBC’s commentators by breaking the record again.
Held won the event in 47.39 seconds. He needed every second of his record to edge runner-up Maxime Rooney (47.61) and Tate Jackson (47.88). Prior to nationals, Held’s personal best in the event was 48.26 seconds.
As the U.S. Open record holder, Held is the fastest swimmer of any nationality at the distance in a race that takes place in the U.S. His time also ranks third all-time among American 100 freestylers, behind Caeleb Dressel and Dave Walters..
Meanwhile, Abbey Weitzeil didn’t have much time to recover from competing at the world championships, where she helped Team USA earn the silver in the women’s 4x100-meter freestyle on July 21.
The 2016 Olympic relay gold medalist didn’t show signs of fatigue while winning the women’s 100-meter freestyle Wednesday with a time of 53:18 seconds, setting a personal best in the process. The 16-year-old Gretchen Walsh and Erika Brown finished in a tie for second at 54:13.
Ally McHugh, fresh off swimming in the women’s 400-meter individual medley in Gwangju, won the women’s 800 free at 8:26.04. Sierra Schmidt finished second at 8:27.13, followed by Ashley Twichell with a time of 8:27.36.
Bobby Finke closed out the individual races on Wednesday by winning the men’s 1,500 freestyle in 14:51:15, nearly five seconds better than runner-up Zane Grothe (14:56.10).
The Ohio State team of Andrew Loy, Ruslan Gaziev, Matthew Abeysinghe and Paul Delakis won the men’s 4x100-meter freestyle in 3:18.44, holding off a team from Australia (3:18.57) and the Aggie Swim Club (3:19.48).
Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to USA Swimming on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.