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Dodge City Daily Globe - Dodge City, KS
  • Christian Smith makes the world his stage by qualifying in Oregon

  •     As the pack came out of the final turn and into the home stretch of the men's 800-meters during last week's track and field Olympic Team Trials at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field, the battle for third place and the final spot on the U.S. 800 team made the race an instant classic.


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  •     As the pack came out of the final turn and into the home stretch of the men's 800-meters during last week's track and field Olympic Team Trials at the University of Oregon's Hayward Field, the battle for third place and the final spot on the U.S. 800 team made the race an instant classic.
        Khadevis Robinson, who was the prohibitive favorite going into the race and who made the 2004 Athens Games in the 800 meters, and southwest Kansas native Christian Smith matched each other stride for stride, Smith said in a recent interview. Both lunged at the finish to try to outlean the other and ended up lying on the ground after the race.
        "I wasn't even sure if I was third or fourth," Smith said. "I didn't want to face the possibility of coming so close and not making the team, so I laid there on my stomach for about 15 seconds."
        While Smith lay pondering, already trying to come to terms with the possibility of failing to make the U.S. Olympic team for the second time in his track career, the times flashed upon the scoreboard. Smith's shoulder had beaten Robinson's to the finish line by .06 seconds, and he made the U.S. team with a time of 1:45.47.
        In the 2004 trials, Smith placed fifth in his semifinal heat. Only the top four runners from each heat make the finals.
        But now, the Garfield native who ran track at tiny Pawnee Heights High School seven years ago will have the world as his stage when the Olympics begin next month in Beijing.
        "One thing that's really awesome is all the support from back home," Smith said. "It makes me proud to be from western Kansas."
        Smith won a partial scholarship to Kansas State University after leading the Pawnee Heights track and field team to 1A state titles in 2000 and 2002. But he didn't think that his running career would be his livelihood until he stormed onto the Big XII scene with a breakout sophomore season at K-State.
        "In high school, I had won state titles but didn't realize track was going to get me to college until the summer after my junior year, when I won the 800 at the AAU Nationals," Smith said. "The Olympic goal became more realistic after my sophomore indoor season [at Kansas State]."
        During his 2004 season at K-State, Smith won the Big XII men's 1,000-meter run, and broke a school record in the event by three seconds.
        "Until then I thought [making the Olympic team] was always something you can imagine, but I didn't think it was that realistic of a possibility," Smith said. "When you're running middle distance in the Big XII against people like Jonathan Johnson (a nine time All-American who earned four consecutive Big XII 800-meter championships during his time at Texas Tech) and Leo Manzano (who won last month's 2008 NCAA championship in the 1,500-meter for Texas), you're already competing against a lot of elite runners."
    Page 2 of 2 - Under the radar
        Smith quietly gained confidence during his tenure at K-State and didn't appear on anyone's radar as far as making the Olympics, even in track circles, said Kansas State men's track head coach Cliff Rovelto.
        Rovelto was at Smith's Olympic Team Trials race. He said as conversations in the stands flared before the 800 meter final, no one was giving Smith a shot.
        "I was amidst all these middle-distance geeks, and they were all making bets about who was going to wind up on the Olympic team," Rovelto said. "No one was making any mention of Christian making the team, so I told them, 'Don't count out the guy with the ugly-looking ponytail.'"
        Rovelto, who deflected any credit for coaching Smith because he said assistant coach Michael Smith was Christian's primary mentor while he was in college, said "People always had reasons why he wouldn't get it done, but he's always found a way to get it done. That race (the Olympic Team Trials 800-meter final) in a nutshell tells the story of Christian Smith. For the past four or five years, he's been doing things people didn't think he could do."
        Rovelto said Smith's running style may have something to do with the runner's being written off as someone who would never achieve what he did by making the Olympics. The Olympian has a style all his own and looks more upright than his competitors as they speed around the track.
        "He's got the rap of not being the most aesthetically pleasing runner to watch," Rovelto said. "He's not necessarily the prettiest runner, and that perception may have made people dismiss him. Maybe that's a good thing, though, because you develop a chip a little bit when no one wanted to give you credit."
        Smith will be running with house money next month in Beijing, having already accomplished more in his young career than anyone thought he would.
        He has seen pictures of the track and field stadium where he will be running the biggest race of his life, calling it a "pretty crazy design."
        "You hear a lot about the pollution and the humidity in Beijing," Smith said. "It's definitely going to be tough elements to run in."
        For now, though, Smith is headed to Europe to prepare for the Olympics by running on the European track circuit. He said he hopes to race in events in Italy, Belgium, Sweden and London.
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