Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky quickly became a household name after her speedy races in the Summer Games. While it is easy to share the accomplishments of the swimmers who finish first in their races, all too often the swimmers who finish in second place are ignored. Finishing second to Ledecky is nothing to be ashamed of, which is why it is a good time to take a look at Leah Smith.
Leah Smith is best known for being an Olympic swimmer who won a medal in the 800 freestyle relay along with Ledecky, Miya DiRado, and Allison Schmitt. She raced in two other events: the 800 free and the 400 free. She finished in 6th in the 800 free and in 3rd in the 400 free, earning a bronze medal.
But for Smith, the most exciting moment in her racing career was during the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Nebraska where she finished second to Ledecky in the 400 free. Ledecky always dominated the races, finished many body lengths ahead of Smith. But, in the Olympic Trials race, Smith finished in a close second place. And, she realized the power in that finish.
Smith is currently a senior at the University of Virginia. As a Cavalier, she is the defending champion in the NCAA 500 and 1650 freestyle races. In fact, she has won those races for two seasons in a row. She is working on her media studies major. In her final year of college, she hopes to lead her team to the top of the NCAA swimming ranks. Her goal is for the team to finish in the top four and she personally wants to break the speedy time of 4:30 in her championship 500 race. As an Olympic and collegiate swimmer, she hopes to become a professional as soon as she receives her degree from the prestigious university created by Thomas Jefferson.
Smith is already planning on racing in the Short Course Worlds in December and the World Championships in Hungary that will take place in the summer. Her eventual goal is to swim again in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. After seeing Michael Phelps swim in his fifth Olympic games, it is easy for swimmers to recognize that they have the same potential. Smith wants to continue swimming for as long as she can, making it to the 2020 Olympics without any doubts.
The advice that Smith believes made a big difference in her ability to finish successfully in the 2016 Olympic Trials and the Games themselves was to swim her race. Instead of focusing on the races that the other swimmers were swimming, she just needed to focus on her lane and her ability. This advice is definitely worth sharing – because, in reality, swimmers are always swimming against themselves as well as the clock.
Through her swimming history, she has made many good friends, some were swimming in their final Olympic races and others were just getting started, like Smith. She also was able to make her family proud, as she comes from a family loaded with athletic talent. Smith’s father was a pole vaulter on the track team at the University of Virginia. She also has a great uncle who was a World Light Heavyweight Boxing Champion. It was in 2013 with Smith made her own legacy when she was added to the U.S. National Team.
Smith won her first National Championship medals in 2014 when she swam in the 200 and 400 freestyle races in the Phillips 66 USA events. Her bronze finishes gave her the opportunity to swim in the Pan Pacific Championships in 2014 and in two more events in 2015, the World University Games and the FINA World Championship races.
Her best finishes were at the , where she won two gold medals in the 400 and in the 800 freestyle relay races. That same summer, she swam in Russia on a relay and also won a gold medal with her peers. All of her racing in the previous years paid off when she swam in the Olympic Trials against Katie Ledecky when she earned a spot on the Olympics team and was invited to the big show in Rio.