(L-R) Katie Ledecky, Ariarne Titmus (Australia) and Leah Smith posing during the medal ceremony of the women's 400-meter freestyle final at the 2019 FINA World Championships on July 21, 2019 in Gwangju, South Korea.
Olympic gold medalist Leah Smith has her eyes set on next summer’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming. Before that happens, however, she’ll be competing under the LA Current in the inaugural season of the International Swimming League.
Smith, who in July won bronze in the women’s 400-meter freestyle at the FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, is seeking something new in her sport: a professional a medal.
The ISL, which kicks off Oct. 4 in Indianapolis, was established to provide swimmers with an opportunity to compete in a unique team format, as well as for an added outlet of financial support. More than 200 of the world’s best swimmers will compete on teams across seven different cities – Indianapolis; Naples, Italy; Lewisville, Texas; Budapest, Hungary; College Park, Maryland; London; and Las Vegas.
Smith is ecstatic about competing in the ISL’s first season and getting the opportunity to hang out with her national team friends more regularly this fall.
“I’m really excited to be back in a more team environment that’s really similar to college swimming [by competing in the ISL],” Smith told TeamUSA.org. “So, I’m excited for the duel meet style and just being part of a team again, and I think that traveling with all my friends on the national team will be really, really fun.”
Fellow LA Current teammate and three-time Olympic gold medalist Ryan Murphy has also mentioned how excited he is for new programs like the ISL.
“I think the developments in the sport have been great, you know, having things like the FINA Champions Series and ISL, it’s working to push the sport forward,” Murphy said. “All the swimmers are really excited about where this is headed, and we can’t wait to see where it’s going to end up.”
The ISL is composed of eight teams: The Aqua Centurions, Cali Condors, DC Trident, Energy Standard, LA Current, London Roar, New York Breakers and Team Iron.
Each team will have two entries into each event, individual or relay, which make the meets even more competitive for Smith and her LA Current teammates.
“I think it’s different than other competitions because you’re competing for a medal there,” Smith said. “There’s a huge team aspect, but I think this will be a little bit different because it’s during the year and we get to travel to different places for it.”
While the ISL gives swimmers a chance at winning some silverware, it’s also preparation for Olympic trials, June 21-28 in Omaha, Nebraska.
“I’m excited for trials,” Smith said. “This will be my third. I know this is going to be a really long year but it’s going to be a really fun one.”
Smith attended her first Games at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, where she took home two medals: gold in the 4x200-meter freestyle with Katie Ledecky, Maya DiRado and Allison Schmitt, and bronze in the 400-meter freestyle.
Back then, Smith was a newbie. Today, she’s seen as a veteran and leader among the team.
“It’s interesting because I felt like such a rookie [in Rio],” Smith said. “That was my first Games, and I just wanted to soak everything up, but I think I still love swimming so much and I just kind of try to use that to keep me going in my career…"
“It’s really cool to have been on the national team for a while now and be with a lot of my friends and to keep traveling with them. It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Qualifying for Tokyo is Smith’s No. 1 priority. The ISL, however, will be a nice change of pace in preparing for that.
“It would mean so much to me [to qualify for Tokyo 2020].” Smith said. “I loved my experience in Rio so much and I never wanted to take a single thing there for granted.
“To be able to do it again would be amazing, so, I’m going to pour my heart out into that meet and work really hard this year.”