US swimmers shift focus to Paris Olympics, rival Australia

INDIANAPOLIS — Turning around quickly is something swimmers do all the time. They touch the wall, flip over and keep going. This is true in the pool and it’s true in an Olympic year.

The most competitive, arduous and nerve-racking swim meet in the world, the U.S. Olympic trials, ended Sunday night. The glitzy American pool party in the NFL stadium is now over. 

In less than five weeks, the swimming competition at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games begins. 

“The job isn’t done and it’s back to work immediately,” said 100 backstroke world-record holder Regan Smith, who will be one of the stars of the U.S. team, swimming in three individual events in Paris and one relay.

On Friday, she said she was planning to be back in the gym by Sunday, even before the trials officially ended. 

“It’s being so proud of everything that I accomplished this week,” said Smith, who won two silvers and a bronze at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, “but also understanding that this isn’t the end of the road and getting my mindset back to where it needs to be in a few days.”

Smith, 22, is joined by several other decorated veterans on the U.S. team, many of them women, all daughters of Title IX, which turned 52 on Sunday, all of whom are expected to win the bulk of the medals for the Americans in what will be a very competitive international swim meet. 

The Australians await. So do the Chinese, the Canadians, the French and more.

During and immediately after last summer’s world championships in Japan, an interesting back and forth took place among U.S. and Australian swimmers and coaches about what was a more important tally, gold medals or total medals. That’s because of this:

Overall, counting both men and women, Australia won 13 gold, seven silver and five bronze medals for a total of 25. 

The United States won seven gold, 20 silver and 11 bronze for 38 total medals.

As they say, to be continued …

For the Americans, the biggest name in the pool is, of course, 27-year-old seven-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky, who won all four of her events at the trials but is planning to skip the 200 freestyle in Paris to focus on the 400, 800 and 1,500, plus the 4×200 freestyle relay. She will be the favorite to win the gold medal again in her long-distance specialties, the 800 and 1,500. 

“I care a lot about the 800 and the 1,500,” she said, “and then the 400 is a great race. I want to be right in there, and same with that relay.”

Asked after her last race Saturday night what her plans were after such a busy and productive week, she said, “It’s time to get back to work. Got to get ready for Paris.” 

Ledecky elaborated Sunday evening: ‘I have experience doing this before. … Five weeks actually is quite a bit of time, quite a bit of time to reset quickly here and then get some work in and then get rested up again. I’m looking forward to this stretch, this is always my favorite time, just trying to learn from the trials meet and get better.”

An Olympic star in the making is Kate Douglass, 22, who is swimming a variety of events in Paris. She is the first American woman ever to compete in an individual freestyle race, a breaststroke event and an individual medley at the Olympics. She also will be on at least two U.S. relay teams. 

Three years ago in Tokyo, she won a bronze in the 200 IM. She wants more this time, much more. 

“Back in 2021, the goal was just to make the team,” she said. “This time around, the whole year, making the team was obviously part of the process but I think we have bigger goals that we want to accomplish in Paris.”

She continued:  “I feel like back in 2021, I was just happy to make the team. But now it’s kind of like we’re moving on, looking forward to the next thing that we have to achieve.” 

Paris, here they come.

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