Like so many of her gold medal-winning Canadian teammates, Kierra Smith has been the toast of the town this week in Toronto.
The 21-year-old Kelowna swimmer has been receiving the royal treatment from Canadian fans since capturing the women’s 200 metre breaststroke at the Pan American Games.
Between signing autographs, posing for photos, getting meals on the house and doing multiple media interviews, it’s unlike anything Smith has ever experienced.
“The atmosphere was been unreal, people have been so nice to me and enthusiastic, I’m really trying to soak it all in,” Smith said Thursday morning from Toronto. “Just walking around town, people are stopping me, getting pictures of me and my parents, and congratulating me. It’s been incredible, I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
Smith stepped into the national spotlight on Wednesday evening with a record-setting performance in the 200 metre breaststroke. Her swim of two minutes 24.38 seconds was .13 better than Canadian teammate Martha McCabe and eclipsed the record she set earlier in the day in the heats.
For Smith, it was her first individual medal in a major international competition and was significant in more ways than one.
“It means a lot to win the medal, but it means so much to win it in Canada,” said Smith, who also acknowledged the tremendous support she has received from back home in Kelowna. “The crowd was amazing and to go 1-2 for Canada with Martha was pretty special.
“It’s also an important stepping stone towards the Olympics in Rio.”
After fourth-place finishes last year at the Commonwealth Games and FINA world championships, Smith continued to make progress this spring, winning gold for the University of Minnesota at the NCAA Swimming Championships in North Carolina.
She will return to the world championships this fall in Russia with a medal in her sights.
All the while, Smith and coach Emil Dimitrov will be building towards the Olympic Games next summer in Brazil.
Meanwhile, Smith will look for her second medal of the Pan American Games on Saturday when she swims for Canada in the 4 by 100 medley relay.