Former American swimming star Missy Franklin will no longer have her name etched in international swimming's record books as 17-year-old Regan Smith obliterated her last remaining world record in the 200-meter backstroke at the 2019 FINA World Championships Friday night in Gwangju, South Korea.
Smith, a rising high school senior from Minnesota, posted a time of 2:03.35 in her semifinal swim (more than three seconds ahead of a talented field) meaning she'll have a shot to lower the record even further in finals. Franklin's time was from the London 2012 Olympics, when she was also 17, and stood for seven years at 2:04.06; Smith was just 10 years old when that record last went down.
Smith was shocked by the swim, saying on-air that she didn't "know how to put it into words."
Throughout the week, the sport of swimming has witnessed a major changing over of the guard. Just one Michael Phelps world record now stands – in the 400 individual medley, thought to be untouchable at this point.
Nineteen-year-old Hungarian Kristof Milak shattered his 200 fly world record, on which Phelps had a stranglehold for 18 straight years, Wednesday; Friday, 22-year-old American Caeleb Dressel lowered Phelps' decade-old record in the 100 fly, also in semifinals with a shot still to improve.
What stands out about Smith's record, however, is just how much of a statement she made. The field of female American backstrokers is as crowded as it is strong right now, and with only two spots in each individual event for the upcoming Olympics, the young Smith has turned herself into a clear favorite. She's long been heralded as a potential heir to Franklin – but it wasn't expected to happen this soon or this stunningly.
Smith, the American record holder in the short course version of this race (meaning it's swum in a 25-yard, rather than 50-meter, pool), entered the meet with a lifetime best time of 2:06.43 – a world junior record – in the long course race. She lowered her record in prelims, going 2:06.01 to take the hold the top seed going into semis, then skipped the 2:05 and 2:04 stops entirely in her second swim. Franklin is the only other woman to go under 2:05.99 since 2012, and Smith becomes just the fourth woman ever to break 2:05.
Franklin swam two collegiate seasons for Cal before turning pro ahead of Rio. After struggling mentally and physically through the 2016 Rio Olympics, the five-time gold medalist underwent double shoulder surgery in 2017, then enrolled at the University of Georgia to continue her education and swim with the professional group there early last year. She announced her retirement last December, saying she was ready to move on to other goals in life.
Immediately after the record-breaking swim, Franklin hopped on social media to congratulate Smith, calling her the "one of the sweetest and hardest working athletes [she's] ever known" on Twitter.
Smith is committed to swim in the NCAA for the back-to-back-to-back national champions Stanford University, home current home to Olympians Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel and Taylor Ruck, and the U.S.'s head Olympic women's coach, in the fall of 2020. That would be after her potential first Olympic berth next summer.