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  • Apr

    Swimmer Q&A: Catching up with Leah Smith

    By Rachel Lutz

    Distance swimmer Leah Smith is slowly but surely expanding her repertoire to include the IMs. When asked if she was doing the IMs just for fun, she said yes, but that’s because she does all her events for fun. That’s simply Leah’s approach to the sport.

    With the 2020 Tokyo Games approaching, check out the third feature in our monthly series of Swimmer Q&As, as swim writer Rachel Lutz chats with the 2016 Olympic gold and bronze medalist.

    Q: How would you assess how you did at the TYR Pro Swim Series at Des Moines last month to kickstart the year?
    LS: I thought Des Moines was a really good first meet of 2019 for me. I came away from the meet knowing which things I want to work on and putting up some good world-ranked times. I was pretty proud of that. It got me really excited for the whole long course season. Worlds are in about four months (July 21-28) and I’m super excited for that. It was a great way to kick things off.

    Q: Are you able to share some of those things you’re looking to work on?
    LS: Let’s see. I would like to work on the middle half of my races. I’m pretty good going out and coming home, but I think with some more long course training under my belt, I’ll be able to be super tough in the middle part of my races. Some things with my stroke. I’ve been working on different parts of my catch and being more consistent with my technique. Different breathing techniques that affect my stroke. Been working on a lot of those. Just trying to nail them down before July.

    Q: In one of the interviews you did in Des Moines you said you weren’t doing a lot of long course training lately due to some pool renovations. Do you and your coaches feel like there is enough time to go back to that before the major summer meets?
    LS: Oh, definitely. Our pool renovations started in March of 2018 and it finished by December. So, the renovations are done now and once the University of Arizona team gets back from NCAAs, we will be training exclusively long course for about four months. I’m currently in Chula Vista, California at a USA Swimming National Team Camp. We’re training long course. Then I’ll be going up to Colorado Springs for another training camp and I’ll be training long course there, too.

    Q: That’s a big leg of traveling if you went from Des Moines to California to Colorado.
    LS: Yeah, definitely. But during this time is really when the college team is traveling, so they are kind of tapering. USA Swimming likes to give the national teamers that train with college teams a chance to have someone to train with. There’s about 20 national teamers here right now and there’s going to be 30 by the end of the week. When your team is tapering, you can go somewhere else and join some other national teamers that are in the same situation as you.

    Q: Can you tell me about the timeline on your move out to Arizona?
    LS: In July of 2017, three of my coaches that coached me at UVA [University of Virginia] accepted the job to coach at University of Arizona. They decided to make the move to Tucson (AZ). After deciding for a couple of months, I moved in October of 2017 to Arizona to keep training with them. I’ve lived there since then. It’s worked out pretty great.

    Q: How do you feel like you’ve adjusted?
    LS: It definitely was a really big adjustment. I’ve only ever lived in Pittsburgh and Charlottesville, Virginia, which were already two places that were pretty different from each other. I would say it was a bit daunting to move across the country but it’s turned out really awesome. I’ve made a lot of new friends. I’ve gotten to explore a completely new area that I love now. It’s been pretty awesome.

    Q: As someone who does a lot of distance swimming, what are some of the major differences that you notice training and racing in short course compared to long course?
    LS: I think short course is a lot more detail-oriented. I think it’s a lot more power-oriented. You obviously have twice the amount of walls, so if your walls are really, really good, then you’re going to be a lot better. If your walls are really bad, you’re going to be a lot worse. I would say I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t think walls are my strongest part of my swimming, but I don’t think they’re bad. I think they’re something I’m always continuing to work on. I think there is a big difference, especially with endurance. You don’t get a break for your arms on the walls as often in long course. Whereas in short course, you’re flipping every 15 seconds or so. Your arms get a little bit of a break. But long course is a lot longer than that.

    Q: How seriously are you taking the IM events moving forward and what training for them brings to your main freestyle events?
    LS: I started training IM just because it was part of the weekly schedule of training that my coach Cory [Chitwood] had designed for our distance group. Once I started to be competitive in those practices a couple years ago, I started to want to race IM more. I did the 400m IM in some dual meets and put up some really good times. It just never really fell within my schedule of events. I have a lot of my plate usually and so it wasn’t always my first thought, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll try the 400m IM out at this meet.’ After my senior year, I decided to try it out at the Charlotte UltraSwim and put up a great time. I was like, ‘Yeah, I think I should do this at World Champ Trials.’ But I didn’t want to be doing it unless I could make the final. And once I made the final at World Champ Trials, I started to take the event pretty seriously.I am doing it for fun, but I am doing all my events for fun. That’s how I approach my swimming. I like to have fun with all my events. I do take it pretty seriously, as well.

    Q: Over the summer you were swimming in Tokyo at Pan Pacs. What did you learn from swimming in that city and venue that you can take with you to 2020?
    LS: Tokyo was awesome. I loved Japan. I stayed a few days after with my boyfriend and we got to explore. Definitely came away from that with a great appreciation for the country of Japan, and the culture, and the people. As far as swimming goes, I learned a lot about traveling and adjusting to time changes. We had a quick turnaround from nationals to Pan Pacs, so I had to learn about challenging my body in that way. Getting up to race even when you know you raced 10 days before that. There was definitely a lot of learning experience that went on at that meet.

    Q: And while we’re talking about Tokyo, how do you feel about the addition of the women’s 1500m to the Olympic program?
    LS: It’s awesome. It’s obviously many, many decades overdue because the men have been doing it for so much longer than the women. And the history of why women haven’t been doing it is very sexist. I think that it’s awesome that they added it and I know that because there’s already an 800m that there’s been some trouble to figure out where to put the event. But yeah, adding it was a move that should’ve been done a very long time ago.

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