Clark Smith still motivated after winning NCAA titles, Olympic gold

Vanessa Le

As a high schooler, Clark Smith didn’t have to look very far when considering colleges. 

The child of two former Longhorn swimmers, Smith knew he wanted to keep his burnt orange legacy alive.

Now Smith, a two-time defending national champion, is anxious to cap off his Texas tenure with even more success in his senior year.

“It’s like bread and butter right now,” Smith said. “Training here is a dream and I really take it for granted.”

While most 21-year-old college students spend their summers relaxing, Smith battled in the most important race of his career at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. He took home a gold medal with Team USA in the men’s 4×200-meter freestyle relay. Texas head coach Eddie Reese — who coached for Singapore in Rio — said he was proud to watch Smith compete.

“When Clark led off that relay in the heats and set his lifetime best, that was really important,” Reese said. “I really enjoyed that.”

Smith dedicates most of his success to the people around him, especially his head coach. The Olympian credits Reese’s coaching style for the preparation needed to win on the world’s biggest stage.

“He’s been so successful and been around for so long,” Smith said. “He just knows what he’s doing. He’s one of the greatest coaches in the country, if not the world.”

Smith also attributes his achievements to his teammates and family. Fellow Longhorns sophomore Townley Haas and senior Jack Conger also won gold medals for Team USA in Rio, while junior Joseph Schooling edged out swimming legend Michael Phelps to reel in the gold for Singapore. Smith said the familiar faces helped him feel comfortable in Rio’s foreign environment.

He also looked to his mother Tori, who competed for Team USA at the 1984 Olympics.

“Her advice to me would have been to just relax and treat it as any other meet,” Smith said.  “Because when you get there, it doesn’t really feel like you’re at the Olympics … It just feels like another meet. You don’t really realize the whole world’s watching you.”

Although most of Smith’s career is adorned with accolades, he also tasted defeat during his junior year at Texas. After winning the NCAA championship title for the 500-yard freestyle in 2015, Smith was unable to make the final round of the same event last season. 

He said last year’s shortcoming motivates him to regain his championship form this year.

“[I want to] do best times and try to get some pretty good performances at NCAAs,” Smith said. “I had my best times midseason. [When] NCAAs came around I didn’t necessarily perform, so to get back on top would be the goal.”

Smith can set his plans in motion during Texas’ first home meet of the season against North Carolina State on Nov. 4.