Mt. Lebanon swimmer qualifies for World Championships
When Leah Smith of Mt. Lebanon announced she would continue her swimming career after she had already won medals – gold and bronze – at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, her father, Dan, was flabbergasted. “I didn’t know there was such a thing as professional swimming,” he said, knowing that his daughter would graduate from his alma mater, the University of Virginia, that following May.
But Smith noted during her welcome-home press conference last August that she “definitely” was going to train for the 2020 Olympics to be held in Tokyo.
“I think when you go to the Olympics, it just makes you hungry for more and it makes you want to do better,” said the daughter of Margee Smith.
Already, Smith is doing better, swimming faster times than ever. And, she’s back on the U. S. national team that will be competing in the World Championships July 23-20 in Budapest, Hungary.
“People kind of think it’s is every four years and wow, it’s so far away. But for the people who are actually doing it and making it a career, there is a meet every summer that is the equivalent of the Olympics.”
The World Championships are that meet in 2017. In the summer of 2018, it will be the Pan-Pacific Games, where Smith has already won a gold medal in the 4-by-200-meter free relay. In 2019, the World Championships are held again.
This summer, however, Smith will participate for Team USA in five individual events–200, 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyle races as well as the 400 individual medley. She earned her spots by excelling in the Phillips 66 National Championships, which served also as the trials for the World Championships.
At the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis, Smith captured the national title in the 1,500. She finished with a time of 16:01.02, which ranks second in the world this year. She also won the 400 IM in 4:33.86. The mark is also the second fastest in the world this year.
In the IM, Smith reached the wall with over a four-second gap, after second-place swimmer Ella Eastin, who was disqualified for an underwater kick violation known as the Lochte Rule. The official second-place finish went to Elizabeth Beisel (4:38.55).
Additionally, Smith finished second in the 200 (1:56.68), 400 (4:03.77) and 800 (8:20.46) free events. Her time in the 800 ranks second in the world, her 400 mark rates third and her 200 is the eighth fastest time.
Olympic champion Katie Ledecky broke the championships record and the U.S. record in winning the 400 free in 3:58.44. Though behind Ledecky in the race, Smith finished four full seconds ahead of third-place finisher Sierra Schmidt.
Smith also finished runner-up to Ledecky, who won the 800 and 200 free events. Ledecky was a four-time champion in Rio.
In addition to being a multiple NCAA champion and All-American, Smith gained multiple All-America academic honors while maintaining a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better during her academic career. She majored in media studies and minored in history.