Smith swims to silver at world junior meet

In his final meet of the summer, Kieran Smith made one trip to the podium and came close to taking another.

Competing at the FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation) World Junior Championships in Indianapolis, Ind., Smith, a rising senior at Ridgefield High, won a silver medal with a second-place finish in the 200-meter individual medley and then finished fourth in the 400-meter individual medley.

Smith, who earlier this summer gave a verbal commitment to swim at the University of Florida, also placed 11th in the 200-meter backstroke at the world juniors, which took place Aug. 23-28 at the Indiana University Natatorium on the campus of Purdue University.

After shaving more than a second and a half off his previous best time to place first in the prelims, Smith finished second to Germany’s Johannes Hintze in the 200 IM finals last Thursday. Smith led halfway through the race but was unable to fend off Hintze, who won the event in a meet-record time of 1:59.03.

Smith got the silver medal with his best-ever clocking of 1:59.56, breaking the two-minute barrier for the first time. He also came close to beating the previous meet record of 1:59.44, which was set  in 2013.

“... I knew the German swimmer (Hintze) that won the event has a great breaststroke and freestyle leg, so I was really trying to jump on the first 100 if I wanted a shot at winning,” Smith told The Press on Tuesday.

In an interview with Swimming World magazine right after the 200 IM finals, Smith said: “I thought to myself on the podium, ‘is this real?’ I wasn’t expecting a 1:59 today. That’s insane. Coming into this meet, I was thinking 2:00-mid. Silver medal, 1:59? So happy.”

On Sunday night, Smith added a fourth-place finish in the 400 IM with a personal-best time of 4:17.63. Spain’s Hugo Gonzalez broke a four-year-old meet record on his way to the gold medal in a time of 4:14.65. The silver medal went to Marton Barta of Hungary, who finished a second behind Gonzalez in 4:15.65. Balazs Hollo of Hungary claimed third place and the bronze medal in 4:16.78.

“I knew I had the ability to medal in the 400 IM and an outside shot in the 200 IM, and the outcome played out to be the opposite of what I was expecting,” said Smith. “I thought that I was going to be a bit faster than I was in the 400 IM, and my goal time would've put me on the podium.”

Smith ended the meet by finishing 11th with a time of 2:02.72 in the preliminaries of the 200 backstroke on Monday morning. The top-eight swimmers advanced to the finals.

“I was mostly pleased with my performances,” said Smith, who was competing in his first major international competition. “I think I could've taken care of my body and immune system better if I wanted the meet to have a perfect outcome.

“The competition was fantastic,” added Smith. “Everyday there was a handful of performances from the men and women that made everyone go ‘wow are they really a junior swimmer?’ Junior world records and (meet) championship records were going down so frequently. I've never seen a faster junior level meet.”

Notes: The world junior championships are held every two years.

Earlier this summer, SwimSwam magazine ranked Smith eighth in its top-20 national list of boys swimmers in the class of 2018.

As a junior at Ridgefield High, Smith won all six of his individual races in three post-season meets last winter. He finished first in the 200-yard freestyle and the 100-yard backstroke at the FCIAC championships, then won the 200 and 500 freestyles at the Class LL and State Open meets.

His times in the 200 freestyle (1:37.28) and the 500 freestyle (4:24.69) at the Open were both meet and state records. Smith lowered his own state and meet record in the 500 freestyle.

Smith also swam the anchor leg on Ridgefield’s 400 freestyle relay, which finished first at the State Open in a new school-record time.