Smith ready to return to Minnesota pool after Olympic redshirt year

Senior Kierra Smith swam for Team Canada in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Kierra Smith swims the 100-yard butterfly against Iowa State on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012,  at the University Aquatic Center.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Kierra Smith swims the 100-yard butterfly against Iowa State on Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, at the University Aquatic Center.

Alyssa Hodenfield

Kierra Smith is gearing up for her senior swim season at Minnesota, but it’s been a while since she’s donned a swim cap with maroon and gold.

Smith is returning to the Minnesota swim and dive team after competing with Team Canada in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Her career has been plenty busy so far, but Smith’s passion for swimming hasn’t diminished.

“[My parents] never made me go. It’s always been something that I wanted to do, and that really carried into college,” Smith said. “This is something that I just want to do for myself, and that’s helped me on the days where it’s a little bit tougher to wake up and get into the pool.”

Smith spent the past year very differently from her teammates. It was announced in early 2015 that Smith would take an Olympic redshirt for the 2015-2016 season to prepare for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The Kelowna, British Columbia, native trained in Minnesota and at home for the year and qualified for two Olympic events — the 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke.

Smith came in 19th during the qualifying round of the 100 race and made it to the finals of the 200 after placing fourth in her semifinal.

Smith took seventh place in the event final and was the only current Minnesota athlete to compete in the games.

Now that Smith is back on campus, she has channeled all of her energy back into Minnesota swimmingwhere her potential has been evident from the start.

“She uses her resources well. She listens and makes changes in and out of the pool, and she’s really coachable,” said head coach Kelly Kremer. “She’s as competitive as they get, and she hates to lose more than she enjoys success or winning, but those are just some of the things that make her successful.”

The senior was the 2015 200-yard breaststroke NCAA Champion and is currently the NCAA’s fourth-fastest performer of all time in the event.

She was also the 2015 Big Ten Swimmer of the Year and holds the school record for both the 200-yard and 200-meter breaststroke.

“I love being a Gopher. It comes to me so naturally now,” Smith said. “This is my fifth year here, and it’s become home. I’m really comfortable here, and I’m glad that I have a season left to represent the Gophers.”

Looking at the rest of the season, Smith said she hopes to win the Big Ten Championship and defend her NCAA title from 2015 in the 200-yard breaststroke.

She plans to keep training for the 2020 Olympics after her senior season has concluded.

In the meantime, Smith’s Olympic experience has made an impact on Minnesota’s program and is helping to motivate her teammates and their goals for the season to come.

“I’ve always thought swimming is a pretty simple science where you put a bunch of people that work hard and support each other together, and they push each other to new levels,” Kremer said. “Having an athlete like [Smith] in there every day is part of that mix. It helps everybody go to a higher level.”