Clark Smith wins first NCAA title in 500 freestyle, helps Texas take Day 1 lead
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The view from the awards podium Thursday night was much better than the view Texas sophomore Clark Smith had at last year's NCAA Division I Men's Swimming and Diving Championships.
Smith rallied in the final 50 yards and flew past Florida's Dan Wallace to first place in the 500-yard freestyle final at the University of Iowa's Campus Recreation and Wellness Center.
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The Longhorns also won the 200 free relay and 400 medley relay and hold a 171-119 lead over second-place California, the meet's defending champion.
Smith did not qualify for last year's NCAA meet, which was held on the University of Texas campus.
But he was there.
"I watched all the guys swim [the 500 last year], so I had an idea where they would be at," said Smith. "I don't think anyone knew who I was."
They do now.
Smith trailed Wallace by .49 seconds heading into the final 50, but swam home in 24.03 seconds to overwhelm Wallace, who finished second for the second consecutive year. Smith's time of 4:09.72 was 1.12 seconds off the NCAA record.
"I feel like I was in my right to think I had it with 50 to go," said Wallace, who finished in 4:10.48. "It's not often a guy comes back in under 25 [seconds] in the 500. That was really something special."
Texas coach Eddie Reese said Smith is something special.
"Ninety-five percent of the practices, day-in and day-out, he does things that I just can not believe," said Reese, the Longhorns' 73-year-old coach who is bidding for an 11th NCAA title. "[And] he is just a beginner."
Reese recounted a workout Smith did where his 100 splits in a 500 -- all under 50 seconds -- kept dropping until he was swimming the last in 47 seconds.
"Nobody I've had has ever done that," said Reese.
"He didn't qualify for this meet last year as a freshman. He went from watching it to winning an event. I'd like to take credit for that, but that's all him."
Smith, whose parents also swam at Texas, is the Longhorns' first NCAA champ in the 500.
"I just wanted to get top 3, to be honest," said Smith. "It was just kind of a game of cat-and-mouse. Nobody had a real clear lead until the end.
"I like to save up for the last 50. It's more fun. It's more interesting that way.
"I'm sure there's smarter ways to swim the race, but that's the way I like to do it."