Son of Olympic champ hopes for the gold too

LUTZ — Call it a father's intuition, with a dash of professional expertise.

Calvin Smith II wanted to follow in his Olympic champion father's footsteps and race in the 100-meter dash, the glamor event of any summer Olympics. But Calvin Smith the elder spotted the long strides and lean body of a 400-meter dash man at Freedom High and foretold of future greatness in that event.

"I told him in his senior year the 400 would be his race and he'd get a college scholarship somewhere because of that event," Calvin Smith said.

"He ran a couple 400s when he was younger and I could see that would be his race. He didn't want to believe that, and he still doesn't want to believe that. He thinks he's a 100 and 200 guy. But he should know by now the 400 is his race."

Calvin Smith II may still think of himself as a 100-meter man. But he will forever be known as a member of the 2008 Olympic team on the 4x400 relay squad. Smith, a sophomore at the University of Florida, qualified for the Beijing Games by finishing fifth in the Olympic trials in the 400-meter dash.

He's one of six runners eligible for the 4x400 team, which will be picked by U.S. coaches before a preliminary race Aug. 22.

As far as his coach at Freedom, Eric Smith, is concerned, Smith deserves to run one of the four legs. After a season slowed by hamstring and foot injuries, he is peaking at the perfect time.

"He just ran a 45.07 (in the 400), a personal best," Eric Smith said. "It's hard to not put him on their team. Any track coach at that level wants to take the kid who has the talent and heart for that race because it's the hardest race to run in track and field."

Calvin Smith, as well as Calvin II, were both surprised he made the Olympic team because of his early season injuries.

Smith II burst onto the collegiate scene last season with All-America honors in the 400 meters at both NCAA (indoor and outdoor) meets.

He earned SEC Outdoor Freshman Runner of the Year recognition as the second freshman in University of Florida history to claim the league outdoor 400-meter crown.

He didn't qualify for the NCAA outdoor meet this season because of physical setbacks. As he recovered, his surprising run to the Olympics took shape at the national trials in early July.

"He's now getting back to where he could've been a long time ago," Calvin Smith said. "His confidence is building."

Calvin Smith, who coached his son at Freedom, and Eric Smith, saw Calvin II's track star rise his senior year. The younger Smith dominated, winning every regular season competition. He finished third in the state meet in the 400, won the 200-meter dash and was a member of the 4x400 relay team that finished third.

With Smith II leading the way, the Patriots finished second at the state meet, one point behind Hallandale High in 2006. "We did it with five guys," Eric Smith said. "And Calvin led the way.

The 20-year-old Smith II was acquainted with the sport at a young age, running around at the University of South Florida track with big sister Brittany watching their father work out. Calvin Smith made his mark on the track in the 1980s, holding the world record in the 100-meter dash from 1983-87 with a dazzling time of 9.9 seconds.

That's not far off the current world record of 9.72 set by Jamaican Usain Bolt in May.

Still with a tautly muscled sprinter's body at 47, Calvin Smith can lend firsthand Olympic knowledge to his son, having won a gold medal as part of the 4x100-meter relay team at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Smith said he knows what his son was experiencing after his all-out sprint from last (eighth place) in the 400 at the Olympic trials to grab the fifth spot and qualify for the Olympics.

"There's a tremendous amount of pride in being on the Olympic team," Smith said. "It's a big relief because making the team itself is a difficult task. And once you're on the team, no one can take that away from you."

Now the younger Smith's goal is to run in the race. As his Freedom coach noted, Smith deserves the shot based on his effort at the Olympic trials. However, what could work in Smith's favor is that his coach at Florida, Mike Holloway, is friendly with Olympic track coach Bubba Thornton.

"Coach (Holloway) told me there was a good chance I could be running in the prelims because he knows the Olympic coach and would put in a good word for me," Smith said.

"The coach doesn't know who he wants. That's part of the reason that I went overseas (after the trials), to show him that I'm still competing. I'm tired, but hopefully he'll take that into consideration."

As he digs into the starting blocks in Beijing, or any race, Smith II always hears the gentle preaching of his father, who coached him for two years at Freedom.

Calvin Smith works as a supervisor for a housing program for ex-offenders in Temple Terrace for Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services. But he's never far from the track. He plans to coach sprinters as a paid assistant at Tampa Bay Tech next spring because it's close to work.

When speaking about the elder Smith, coaches and athletes refer to him in Zen-like tones, an All-American at Alabama and track guru who says little but crafts each word in gold.

"He's a neat guy, real quiet. I was tickled to get him," said Wharton High track coach Wes Newton, whom Smith assisted last season. "I knew he produced a great group of sprinters at Freedom, but I still doubted him because it looked like he wasn't doing enough with the kids.

"But as the year went on and we got to states, the kids were running their best. That's a testament that he's been there and done that. That gave me a good awareness of his knowledge and patience.

"How often could you have your high school kid coached by an Olympic medalist? But he never, ever, mentioned it. He ran with the kids and can outrun all of them."

Keyon Jones ran for Smith at Freedom and last season at Wharton. He also gets private lessons from the track legend. He compared Smith's coaching style with that of Tony Dungy.

"He knows the right thing to say," said Jones, who attributes his track scholarship to Louisiana Monroe directly to Smith's tutelage. "He doesn't yell and scream like a lot of coaches.

"Less is more with Coach. A lot of coaches will hammer you with ridiculous workouts. You feel like you're going to run 10 miles in one day. The way he does things is simple. He knows how to break down a workout to help part of your race every day.

"I used to be really good in track and field, then I kind of figured track wasn't the best sport for me. But he brought it back out of me."

Smith also brought it out of Calvin II, who now admits his dad was right when he said the 400 would be his best race in college.

"He's real laid back," Calvin II said. "But if you don't give effort and try, he won't spend his time on you. He'll work with those who come to practice and listen. You know he's been there so you listen to him."

While father and son aren't the exuberant high-fiving types, Calvin Smith could tell the excitement in his son's voice over the phone five minutes after he qualified for the Olympics.

"He was excited," said Smith, who will watch the Games from the family home in Lutz. "I think he surprised himself. But he was in good condition and he stepped up to the plate and ran well.

"It's something not many people get to do. I know what he was feeling because I've gone through that. It's a great accomplishment."

Son of Olympic champ hopes for the gold too 08/07/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 10:26am]

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