Olympic bronze medalist Kieran Smith welcomed back to Ridgefield: ‘This is my home’

Photo of Maggie Vanoni

RIDGEFIELD — When Kieran Smith returned to Connecticut last week, his parents sent a car to pick him up from the airport and drive him to their house in Ridgefield.

Waiting for Smith in the driveway was a small group of close family and friends waving American flags and celebrating him with screams of joy and congratulations.

Their Olympic Bronze medalist was home.

“It was great, he looked so happy to be home and so happy to see us,” Patrick Smith, Kieran’s dad, said. “The celebration just started all over again the moment he got home.”

The town of Ridgefield welcomed Smith home from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Friday afternoon with a meet and greet at the Ridgefield Playhouse.

About 70 people made up of local residents, former Ridgefield Aquatic Center teammates and coaches and young swimmers with Olympic dreams met Smith, asked him questions, and snagged an autograph and photo with him and his medal.

Three weeks ago, Smith won the bronze medal in the men’s 400-meter freestyle race in his Olympic debut. While the surreality of his accomplishment has slowly begun to sink in, being home in Ridgefield gave him a chance to get reacquainted with reality.

“I have so much respect and so much love for this town that I call my home,” Kieran told the crowd following First Selectman Rudy Marconi’s presentation of a framed proclamation in honor of Kieran. “I love this proclamation and I love the wording of it, and I will cherish that forever because forever I will call myself a Ridgefielder. This is my home.”

Three weeks ago, Sandra and Patrick Smith, Kieran’s parents, hosted a small party to watch the 400-meter freestyle Olympic final, while Kieran’s older brother, Grayson, watched from a Team USA watch party in Orlando, Fla. AJ Bornstein, Smith’s longtime childhood teammate and close friend, watched the final with his University of Michigan teammates in Ann Arbor since the program had two swimmers in the race.

As Kieran hit the final turn with 100 meters to go, he could see he was within fractions of seconds of the three swimmers ahead of him. With a final push he hit the wall in third place with a time of three minutes and 43.94 seconds, to win his first Olympic medal.

“I touched the wall and I saw that there was a light that shined up on the block and I thought, ‘Oh thank God, I won a medal,’” Smith said. “It means the world. It means that I’m doing something right, and I hope to have a good future ahead of me.”

The Smith’s living room in Ridgefield was full of screams, hugs and champagne toasts following Kieran’s third-place finish. Down in Florida, Grayson threw his arms up in celebration and hugged his fiancé tight.

“It’s just weird to think because becoming an Olympian is what, like 0.01 percent of the population ever is an Olympian so the fact that he’s part of that small percentage of people who have not only gone to the Olympics but earned an Olympic medal, it’s just crazy to think about.”

In Michigan, Bornstein jumped up and screamed as the rest of his teammates sat in disappointment as the two Michigan swimmers placed out of medal contention.

“I was disappointed for Felix Aubock (who graduated from Michigan in 2020 and finished behind Smith in fourth in 3:44.07) as well, but I couldn’t have been happier for Kieran,” Bornstein said. “Just to be able to win a medal at the Olympics is the most unbelievable thing and to just be able to see that happen. I was just so incredibly happy for him and so excited.”

Smith enjoyed the moment, but quickly put those feelings aside because he still had two other events, including a preliminary for the 200-meter freestyle about 12 hours later.

“That was tough because the 400-meter final was in the morning and then we had the 200 prelim at night and it was really busy after that 400 meter just with media and drug testing and stuff like that, I didn’t get back to the village until around 2 p.m. and I had to leave for the prelim around 4:40 so I didn’t have that much time to decompress or relax,” he said. “But it’s something that we train for. It was a quick turnaround and I knew that that 200 prelim was going to be tough.”

Smith finished sixth in the 200-freestyle final, finishing with in 1:45.12. A day later he led Team USA in the men’s 4x200-meter freestyle relay. Smiths’ opening leg gave the U.S. more than a one-second advantage before eventually falling to fourth in the final leg and finishing one spot shy of medaling in 7:02.43.

Outside of winning an Olympic medal, Smith said meeting and competing against the world’s top swimmers was one of his favorite things about the Olympic experience. He became close friends with Team USA swimmers and enjoyed sharing a suite with a handful of them.

When a local resident at Friday’s meet and greet asked Smith about the athletes’ cardboard beds in Tokyo, Smith said one of his favorite memories from the Games was when fellow U.S. swimmer Caeleb Dressel jumped on a cardboard bed on their final day in Tokyo in attempt to break it — to which the seven-time Gold medalist did on his first attempt.

Smith left Tokyo and returned first to Florida for a brief stay before coming to Ridgefield last week. After a few weeks home, he’ll return to Florida for his final year of college eligibility at the University of Florida along with plans to get the Olympic rings tattooed on his left bicep.

Adding to the special homecoming was that it was the first time since 2019, the whole Smith family was together. To honor Kieran and for Grayson’s October wedding, the family spent a few days at the beach to celebrate privately.

Being a lean 6-foot-5 with a full head of sandy blonde hair, Smith is easily recognizable in Ridgefield. At restaurants, owners will ask for a picture while some have even graciously provided free meals.

On their way home from the beach, the family stopped at a small local hot dog stand, at which they were surprised when the owner recognized Smith and asked for a photo. Even during Friday’s meet and greet, a few cars honked in celebration as they drove by.

While the extra attention is still new to Smith, his family and those close to him knew this day was coming. From the moment his mom watched him take splits as a 9-year-old at his brother’s swim meet and his dad watched as he broke school record after school record at Ridgefield High School, his family knew a day would come when his hard work and passion would pay off.

They knew it was only a matter of time.

“We’ve been preparing for this,” Sandra Smith said. “He’s been doing this since he was 7 years old. So, like people say, ‘Can you believe it?’ and I can because he’s worked really hard and he’s given up a lot, he’s sacrificed a lot, so it’s all very real. … We’ve all supported him as a family going through all this. We’re just really really proud of him and excited. We’re happy for him.”