Elizabeth Beisel previews U.S. Open, assesses Regan Smith’s bright future

Regan Smith
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On Thursday, swimming analyst and two-time Olympic medalist Elizabeth Beisel sat down with On Her Turf to preview the women’s competition at this week’s U.S. Open swimming championships. This Q&A has been edited lightly and condensed for clarity.

On Her Turf: For people who aren’t super familiar with swimming, can you explain what the U.S. Open is and how it’s different this year? 

Elizabeth Beisel: The U.S. Open is a national swim meet. It’s kind of a checkpoint meet. Does it mean a ton in the grand scheme of the entire season? No, but it is a chance for you to see where you are, what do you need to work on race-wise.

The U.S. Open happens every December in a normal year. Of course, we are in 2020, so nothing is normal. So this year, it’s in November, and due to COVID restrictions and regulations, it’s being held at nine locations across the United States. All of the results will be compiled at the end of this weekend and a champion will be crowned in each event.

This year’s meet is also different because there are no prelim sessions. Normally in swimming, if you’re racing an event on a Friday, you swim the prelims on Friday morning and you advance to the finals on Friday night. But this weekend, everything is a timed final. So you step up on the blocks, and that is your one chance to swim that race.

OHT: Not being a swimmer myself, I’ve never quite understood the peaks and valleys of the training schedule, when athletes are training hard and when they’re giving their bodies more of a break. Can you give me a sense of what a November training block typically looks like?  

Beisel: Yeah, so November is a very high yardage, heavy training block. The swimming season is typically year-round, it’s September to August. And then, at the end of August, we get two weeks off. So once we’re back in the water in September, we’re grinding and we are building up a base so that when we hit December, we are ready for what we call “Christmas training.” Christmas training is the most miserable three weeks of a swimmer’s entire season. You’re doubling every single day, you’re lifting weights or doing dry land training. So in November, it’s heavy training, but athletes are mostly getting their bodies prepared for the work that they’re going to put in in December. So November is a hard month, but it’s not the hardest.

OHT: Given that this year’s U.S. Open is a November meet in the middle of a pandemic, and there are eight months until the Olympics, what do you expect to see? 

Beisel: I think this meet is going to be a huge indicator of who has done the work during quarantine. I don’t mean that in a negative way; it’s more about who has had access to pools and who hasn’t.

Mentally, I don’t think anybody should stress about anything that happens this weekend. It’s November; it does not matter. I have seen people heading into an Olympic year, not even swimming right now because they’re injured or something’s gone wrong. And then they show up at Olympic Trials eight months later, and they make the team. This is strictly just a checkpoint to see where you are.

I want to urge all the athletes that are competing this weekend: do not stress. I’ve been there, I’ve stressed about November. And I now have the hindsight to know that November does not matter. So it really is just an opportunity to put on that racing suit and shake off the cobwebs that have accumulated over the past few months.

OHT: Which races and athletes are you most excited to watch?

Beisel: I’ll be watching from the U.S. Open site in Greensboro, and I’m super excited about Claire Curzan, who is competing here. She’s a 16-year-old up-and-coming sprinter who does freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly. She’s definitely in contention to make the U.S. Olympic team in a few months.

Also in Greensboro, there’s 19-year-old Katharine Berkoff. She’s actually the daughter of Olympic gold medalist David Berkoff. But she’s like, ‘Dad, I don’t need your accolades. I’m gonna get my own,’ and she’s absolutely crushing it.

Competing in Des Moines, I’m very excited to watch Phoebe Bacon and Regan Smith go head-to-head. They’re two backstroke teenage prodigies.

So there are a lot of young athletes that I’m super excited to watch. I think the young swimmers are kind of at an advantage with this extra year added to the Olympic quad. Because they’re only getting stronger, they’re only getting more confident, whereas the older swimmers, they’re not getting any younger, they’re kind of just hanging on. So I’m excited to see what these young swimmers do with the extra year of training. I think it could throw a wrench into everything that we thought was going to happen this past summer.

Of the older athletes… one of the swimmers I’m excited about is Ashley Twichell. She has actually already punched her ticket to Tokyo in the open water event; she was named to the U.S. Olympic team back in the summer of 2019. She’s one of the oldest athletes right now… but she’s so tough and she’s so positive. And so for her to stick it out for another year, preparing for the 10km open water event, it’s not easy, but she’s doing it.

OHT: Looking ahead to U.S. Olympic Trials… With only two Americans able to make the team in each individual event, it is sometimes more difficult to make the U.S. Olympic team than the Olympic podium. Which women’s events do you think will be the hardest to make?

Beisel: Women’s backstroke is absolutely stacked, it’s the deepest it’s ever been. Regan Smith, who is the world record in the 100 and 200m back, is the heavy favorite. But behind her in second place, you could have Phoebe Bacon, Katharine Berkoff, Olivia Smoliga, Kathleen Baker, and that’s not even naming all of them.

Personally, I’m excited to watch the women’s 400m IM because that was my event. Now we have Melanie Margalis, who had an absolute breakout swim back in February. She’s kind of had this chip on her shoulder in the 400m IM. She never wanted to swim it, and then she had a breakout swim, and she’s finally not afraid of it. And then we have a youngster from Sarasota, Emma Weyant, who is kind of a dark horse.

OHT: Going back to Regan Smith… She was already expected to be a big threat at the Olympics before the Games were delayed. Looking ahead to 2021, what do you make of her potential? 

Beisel: I’ll call it now: Regan is going to the Olympics in the backstrokes. Butterfly is kind of her dark horse event. There’s some open space in the U.S. in the butterflies and I think Regan is going to see that opportunity and seize it, especially with this extra year that she’s had to get stronger. She has so much versatility and I’m so excited for her.

[READ MORE: Olympic delay gave Regan Smith a chance to be a kid again.]

I also think she she has a good head on her shoulders. And that is the most important thing when it comes to being that kind of breakout prodigy star. She’s never going to let that success go to her head, she’s always going to swim humble. She’s going to swim like she’s hunting something and I think that’s going to give her longevity in the sport.

OHT: Do you remember the first time she popped up on your radar?

Beisel: Absolutely. It was the 2017 World Championships. It was my retirement meet. I was like, ‘See ya later!’ And it was her first meet.

She came in – super quiet and reserved – she was 15. And I saw so much of myself in her. I remember making my first national team; I was 13 and I was intimidated by literally everyone. I still had posters of these people on my walls.

And so in 2017, Regan was competing in the 200m backstroke, the same event I competed in at my first world championships. I was so happy that I was on that team to take her under my wing, show her the ropes, because I knew exactly how she felt.

You do feel out of place when you’re on a team with your idols, so I was like, ‘Alright Regan, it’s you and me, girl. I’m going to tell you everything that I know. I’m going to give you all the advice that I have because this is it and I’m never going to be on a team with you again.’ And hopefully, one day, she can do that for another young athlete that makes the team.

OHT: Looking at a competition currently happening over 4,000 miles away in Budapest, what have been your takeaways from the International Swim League (ISL) season so far?

Beisel: I think the ISL has been incredible. I’m jealous. I wish I was still swimming competitively because I would be there in a heartbeat. I keep in touch with so many swimmers who are out there, Allison Schmitt being one of them, and she’s so happy that she’s racing. And I think that’s the one takeaway for all of those athletes in Budapest: if they weren’t there, they would not be racing.

OHT: In addition to the Americans in Budapest, there are also a few other prominent athletes missing from this week’s competition, most notably Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel. Do you have a sense of why they made the choice not to compete and what they will be doing in place of the U.S. Open?

Beisel: I think some athletes are playing it super safe and staying home. Maybe they’re going to suit up on their own and hold their own meet. I can imagine Greg Meehan at Stanford getting a stopwatch and saying, “Alright, Katie, Simone… step up.”

I think that right now, a lot of people are going to be suiting up, whether or not they’re at a meet, just so they can compare themselves to where everybody else is.

HOW TO WATCH THE U.S. OPEN SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS:

In addition to the televised coverage below, this weekend’s coverage will stream on OlympicChannel.com and the Olympic Channel app, in addition to NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Date Network Time (ET)
Fri., Nov. 13 NBCSN 10 a.m. – Noon (LIVE)
Fri., Nov. 13 Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA 6 – 9 p.m. (LIVE)
Sat., Nov. 14 Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA 10 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. (LIVE)
Sat., Nov. 14 NBCSN 1:30 – 3 a.m.
Sun., Nov. 15 NBC 3 – 4 p.m.

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2022 Rivalry Series: USA extends lead to 3-0 over Canada in women’s hockey showcase

Hilary Knight #21 of Team United States reacts after scoring a shorthanded goal in the second period during the Women's Ice Hockey Gold Medal match.
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Hilary Knight had two goals and one assist to lead the U.S. women’s hockey team to a 4-2 win over Canada on Sunday, extending Team USA’s series lead to 3-0 in the seven-game 2022-23 Rivalry Series.

Savannah Harmon and Abby Roque also scored for the U.S., which has notched three consecutive wins against Canada for the first time since 2019. Goalie Nicole Hensley made 22 saves in front of a record-setting crown at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, where fan attendance totaled 14,551.

Marie-Philip Poulin and Sarah Nurse scored for Canada, which captured gold \at both the IIHF Women’s World Championship in September and the Beijing Olympics in February.

Knight has enjoyed a standout 2022-23 Rivalry Series to date, registering six points (three goals, three assists) in the first three games including the game-winning goal in a shootout victory in Game 1 of the series on Tuesday and the game-winning assist in Game 2 on Thursday. Prior to the puck drop in Seattle on Sunday, Knight was presented with a golden stick to commemorate her record-breaking 87th career point in world championship play. Knight became the all-time points leader at the IIHF Women’s World Championship in September, when the eight-time world champion recorded one goal and one assist in Team USA’s 12-1 quarterfinal win over Hungary.

Sunday’s matchup between the U.S. and Canada marked the third game of the 2022-23 Rivalry Series and was the third matchup between the two teams in five days. The U.S. came in with a 2-0 series lead following a 2-1 victory on Thursday in Kamloops, B.C., and a 4-3 shootout victory — the first shootout in Rivalry Series history — in Kelowna, B.C., on Tuesday. It also was the first game for the U.S. national team on home soil since Dec. 17, 2021, when the team hosted Canada in St. Louis (Canada won 3-2 in overtime).

The 2022-23 Rivalry Series continues next month with two games in the U.S., set to be played in Las Vegas on Dec. 17 and Los Angeles on Dec. 19.


2022-23 Rivalry Series schedule, results

DATE TIME/RESULT LOCATION NETWORK
Tuesday, Nov. 15 USA 4, CAN 3 (SO) Kelowna, British Columbia NHL Network
Thursday, Nov. 17 USA 2, CAN 1 Kamloops, British Columbia NHL Network
Sunday, Nov. 20 USA 4, CAN 2 Seattle, Washington NHL Network
Thursday, Dec. 15 10 p.m. ET Henderson, Nevada NHL Network
Monday, Dec. 19 10 p.m. ET Los Angeles, California NHL Network
TBD TBD TBD NHL Network
TBD TBD TBD NHL Network

What is the Rivalry Series?

The Rivalry Series was introduced by USA Hockey and Hockey Canada during the 2018-19 season and designed as an annual showcase of the highest level of women’s hockey at various locations in the United States and Canada. The first series comprised three games between the two national teams, with Canada winning 2-1. Team USA took 2019-20 title, winning the expanded five-game series 4-1 and wrapping with an overtime win in the finale in front of a then-record-breaking total of 13,320 fans in Anaheim, California.

Following a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic and preparation for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, the Rivalry Series resumed this season with seven games over three months: three in November, two in December and two in February.

The U.S. and Canada have battled in the gold-medal game of six of seven Winter Olympics and 20 of 21 IIHF Women’s World Championship, with the two exceptions being the 2019 World Championship and 2006 Olympics. The Canadian women are the reigning Olympic and world champions.


2022-23 Rivalry Series rewind: USA takes Games 1-2

Game 1 recap: USA 4, CAN 3, SO (Nov. 15): The series kicked off Tuesday with Team USA grabbing a 2-0 lead off goals from Hannah Brandt and Hilary Knight. But Canada battled back with three unanswered goals and held a 3-2 lead with 13 minutes to go in the third. With just 1:29 remaining in regulation, Alex Carpenter tied it for the Americans, sending the game to overtime. The U.S. ultimately won in a shootout, with Knight and Carpenter scoring while U.S. goalie Nicole Hensley made two key saves.

Game 2 recap: USA 2, CAN 1 (Nov. 17): Canada was first to get on the board Thursday when Marie-Philip Poulin capitalized off a penalty shot opportunity in the second period, but USA’s Kendall Coyne Schofield knotted the score just 1:12 later. Alex Carpenter scored the go-ahead tally with 6:36 remaining in the third to give the U.S. a 2-1 win and a 2-0 series lead. U.S. goalie Maddie Rooney recorded 19 saves in net.


Who’s playing in the 2022-23 Rivalry Series?

Team USA’s roster — led by coach John Wroblewski — for the November Rivalry Series games features 23 players, 16 of whom were part of the silver medal-winning team at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship in August:

  • Hannah Brandt (Vadnais Heights, Minn.)
  • Alex Carpenter (North Reading, Mass.)
  • Kendall Coyne Schofield (Palos Heights, Ill.)
  • Jincy Dunne (O’Fallon, Mo.)
  • Aerin Frankel(Chappaqua, N.Y.)
  • Rory Guilday (Minnetonka, Minn.)
  • Savannah Harmon (Downers Grove, Ill.)
  • Nicole Hensley (Lakewood, Colo.)
  • Megan Keller (Farmington Hills, Mich.)
  • Amanda Kessel (Madison, Wis.)
  • Hilary Knight (Sun Valley, Idaho)
  • Kelly Pannek (Plymouth, Minn.)
  • Abby Roque (Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.)
  • Hayley Scamurra (Getzville, N.Y.)
  • Maddie Rooney (Andover, Minn.)
  • Lee Stecklein (Roseville, Minn.).

Team Canada’s 23-player roster, selected by coach Troy Ryan and director of hockey operations Gina Kingsbury, features 16 players who were on the gold medal-winning team at the 2022 IIHF Women’s World Championship and the 2022 Beijing Olympics (Canada beat , including:

  • Erin Ambrose
  • Kristen Campbell
  • Emily Clark
  • Ann-Renée Desbiens
  • Renata Fast
  • Brianne Jenner
  • Jocelyne Larocque
  • Emma Maltais
  • Emerance Maschmeyer
  • Sarah Nurse
  • Marie-Philip Poulin
  • Jamie Lee Rattray
  • Ella Shelton
  • Laura Stacey
  • Blayre Turnbull
  • Micah Zandee-Hart

Rivalry Series history

Following Sunday’s victory, the U.S. holds a 6-2-1-2 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record over Canada all time in the Rivalry Series. Canada won the 2018-19 Rivalry Series with a 2-0-0-1 record, while the U.S. won the 2019-20 Rivalry Series with a 3-1-1-0 record.

2019-20 Rivalry Series results

DATE RESULT LOCATION U.S. PLAYER OF THE GAME
Dec. 14, 2019 USA 4, CAN 1 Hartford, Connecticut Alex Cavallini
Dec. 17, 2019 USA 2, CAN 1 Moncton, N.B. Alex Carpenter
Feb. 3, 2020 CAN 3, USA 2 (OT) Victoria, B.C. Hilary Knight
Feb. 5, 2020 USA 3, CAN 1 Vancouver, B.C. Katie Burt
Feb. 8, 2020 USA 4, CAN 3 (OT) Anaheim, California Megan Bozek

2018-19 Rivalry Series results

DATE RESULT LOCATION
Feb. 12 USA 1, CAN 0 London, Ontario
Feb. 14 CAN 4, USA 3 Toronto, Ontario
Feb. 17 CAN 2, USA 0 Detroit Michigan

Atthaya Thitikul takes LPGA rookie-of-year honors in stride ahead of Tour Championship

Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand smiles after the birdie on the 6th green during the second round of the TOTO Japan Classic.
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To say that Atthaya Thitikul has enjoyed a breakout rookie LPGA season is a bit of an understatement, but keeping things low-key is exactly how 19-year-old “Jeeno” likes it.

As the 2022 season concludes this week at the CME Group Tour Championship, Thitikul has already captured two LPGA titles, held the No. 1 spot in the world rankings and collected the Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year honors. But the current world No. 2 displays a wise-beyond-her-years ethos when she says what she’s most proud of this season is her mindset.

“[I’m]19 years old — I think I’m still young to handle all the things that I have now,” Thitikul told On Her Turf ahead of this week’s season finale in Naples, Fla. “I didn’t say that I handled it well, but I’ve just said that I think I can handle it. I can do it. And yeah, it’s turned out to be pretty good this year.”

To keep herself in check, the Thailand native keeps her philosophy posted on her Instagram profile, which reads, “Be you, be happy and everything will be fine.” Thitikul, who on Oct. 31 joined 18-time LPGA winner Lydia Ko as the only players in tour history to reach No. 1 before their 20th birthday, said she took stock of poor performances on the golf course and found they all had one thing in common: She wasn’t being herself.

“I didn’t have fun,” she says of those unsatisfactory rounds. “I was expecting a lot of results on the golf course, not really talking, not really enjoying it. So I think being myself, have fun, keep smiling, keep laughing and talking with other players or talking with my caddie, joking around — I think it’s the best that I can do.”

Golf has always been fun for Thitikul, who grew up in northeast Thailand and was introduced to the sport at age 6 through her father and grandfather, both of whom were not golfers themselves but recognized the opportunity that golf might provide. Thitikul teases that her grandfather was enamored with Tiger Woods, but after her first golf experience with a professional in Bangkok, she was hooked, too.

“They asked me when I finished practicing, do I like it? And I say, ‘Yeah, I do.’ Because [there were] a lot of friends and when I practice, it seemed fun and it seemed not like other sports that I have been watching on TV,” she recalls.

Thitikul’s ascent to the top of her sport was swift: In February 2017, just three days after her 14th birthday, she made her first LPGA tournament appearance at the Honda LPGA Thailand and finished 37th out of 66 players. Just five months later, Thitikul made headlines when she became the youngest person ever to win a professional golf tour event at age 14 years, 4 months and 19 days old, winning the Ladies European Thailand Championship on the Ladies European Tour (LET).

RELATED: 2022 CME Group Tour Championship — How to watch, who’s playing in LPGA’s season finale

For three more years, Thitikul resisted turning professional, racking up multiple international amateur victories and plenty of tour experience, notching her first LPGA top-10 finish in March 2018 at the HSBC Women’s World Championship (T-8) and earning low amateur honors that same year at two majors, the ANA Inspiration (T-30) and Women’s British Open (T-64). The following year, she won the Ladies European Thailand Championship for the second time in three years, earned low amateur honors at the British Open (finishing T-29) for the second straight year and was No. 1 on the women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking.

In her first year as a pro, during the pandemic-impacted 2020 season, Thitikul broke through for her first professional win in July at the Thai LPGA Championship. She finished the season with five Thai LPGA wins and topped the money list.

Thitikul moved to the LET in 2021, winning the Czech Ladies Open in June, and just a month later she moved into the top 100 on the world rankings for the first time at No. 89. She finished 2021 with two wins, three runner-ups and nine additional top-10 finishes, securing the LET Order of Merit and Rookie of the Year titles and becoming just the fourth player to win both awards in the same season.

After finishing third at LPGA Qualifying School to earn her card for 2022, Thitikul didn’t miss a beat in her meteoric rise this season. She posted two top-10s in her first four starts before striking a staff deal with Callaway, which she followed up by winning her first LPGA title in March at the JTBC Classic. She carded an 8-under 64 in the final round to force a playoff and Nanna Koerstz Madsen on the second extra hole. She earned her second LPGA title in September at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, tying the tournament record of 61 in the second round and beating Danielle Kang in a playoff.

As for the pressure of being a teen phenom, Thitikul admits she can’t ignore it but has figured out how to turn it around to her advantage: “It’s still so hard because I think as players want to be on top and we put the pressure on ourselves, and there’s a lot of eyes on us. … But at the same time, it’s kind of like you couldn’t win every week, you couldn’t have a good day every day. It’s golf. I like to think of pressure as a challenge. I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I think of it as challenging.”

Away from the golf course, Thitikul enjoys spending time with friends, watching Korean television dramas and indulging in Asian food (Chinese and Korean are favorites). Although she doesn’t have a pet, she says she’s a dog person, and prefers the mountains to the beach, as she loves to hike.

But don’t expect too much lounging, hiking or other non-golf activities on Thitikul’s itinerary after this season wraps on Sunday.

“This offseason, we have a lot of work to do,” she says.” There are a lot of things I still have to learn – not just for next year but for [beyond.] … But hopefully next year, it’s going to be nice and good for me as well. I really want to have a major win in my career. I don’t know if it’s going to happen next year, but hopefully.”