Friday, October 06, 2006

CALVIN SMITH: World Record holder, Olympic Gold Medal winner, three-time World Champ

On the afternoon of September 24th [1988], 8 men nervously awaited the call for the start of the men's 100 meter final; perhaps the most eagerly awaited event on the Olympic program. Though there were 8 finalists, most eyes would be on but two: Ben Johnson of Canada and defending Olympic champion, Carl Lewis of the United States. Four years before in Los Angeles, Lewis defeated his teammate Sam Graddy (the silver medalist), and Ben Johnson, who finished third: it would be Carl Lewis' first of four gold medals. In the four years between Los Angeles and Seoul, Johnson had turned in amazing performances and challenged Lewis for the right to be called "the fastest man in the world". All but unnoticed at the start was 27 year old Calvin Smith, of the United States: his 5 year journey to this moment has been filled with glorious achievement, yet his exploits have been obscured by the Carl Lewis/Ben Johnson rivalry.

Calvin Smith: World Record holder, Olympic gold medal winner, three times a World Champ: Calvin Smith, who has given far more to sport than he has received.

In the summer of 1983, Calvin Smith gained international fame by breaking the 15 year old 100 meter world record. One month later, he won the 200 meter World Championship in Helsinki. Yet, outside his sport, he was little known; overshadowed by the worldwide publicity given to his teammate, Carl Lewis.

At the 1984 Olympics, Calvin Smith was selected to run the third leg on the 4X100 relay team. Injuries prevented him from competing in the 100 meters, which he held the World Record, and the 200 meters, in which he was the World Champion. The United States won and set a World Record: Calvin Smith now would have two world records - 100 meters and as a member of this relay team. Three years later at the 1987 Rome World Championships, Calvin Smith turned in an amazing performance in the 200 meter final. Coming off the final turn, Smith on the extreme left in 6th place, comes roaring down the stretch. At the finish, he has successfully defended his 200 meter World Championship, but again, it went unnoticed. The sports world was still heralding the 100 meter final four days earlier, when Ben Johnson broke Calvin Smith's four year old World Record and defeated Carl Lewis. Little known was the fact that Lewis and Calvin Smith still share a unique record: they are the only sprinters in history to run both the 100 meters in under 10 seconds and the 200 meter in under 20 seconds.

"The thing that has really bothered me, as well as many other sprinters, is that the media has already chosen a few people and they only key on those few people all the time. In reality, you have a number of very good sprinters, but the media seems to overlook them." (Smith quote)

Now as the runners get ready for the 100 meter final, Ben Johnson is again the subject of conversation. His heats were not impressive and in his semi-final he was just one false start away from elimination. Added to this, have been persistent rumors that Johnson and several other athletes have improved their performances since the Los Angeles games through the use of steroids.

"The main thing that I was looking at was that would be running against at least 3 or 4 people that were going to be on drugs. I had my suspicions that Ben was going to be one of those that I felt was on drugs and that when it came down to it, he was going to be able to run as fast as he wanted to." (Smith quote)

Carl Lewis is in lane three, Calvin Smith in lane five, Ben Johnson along side him in lane six. Johnson is third from the left. Ben Johnson 1st, Carl Lewis 2nd, Linford Christie - Great Britain 3rd, Calvin Smith - United States 4th.

This is how Calvin Smith experienced the race:

"When the gun went off, I just ran - I could see that there were a couple of runners in front of me but I was able to catch most of them. With about 10 meters to go, I saw that Carl, Ben, and one other runner were in front of me...but I wasn't able to catch Christie. I saw the replay and there was a great deal of disappointment that I had finished 4th." (Smith Quote)

The victory platform ceremony takes place: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis, and Linford Christie receive their gold, silver, and bronze medals. The grandeur of these moments would be temporary. Within a few days, the announcement would be made that Ben Johnson had been disqualified for testing positive for a banned substance - steroids. The disqualification of Johnson had profound effect on the principle actors in this drama. Carl Lewis would be later be awarded the gold medal and with it, make Olympic history: the only man to win the 100 meters twice. Linford Christie would be moved from third to second, the winner of the silver medal. And the bronze medal awarded to Calvin Smith would be filled with irony; for with the world-wide implications of the disqualification, the humanity of sport would be disregarded.

It would be decided that there would not be a victory ceremony honoring the three new winners. Calvin Smith would be given his medal beneath the stadium, out of sight of the thousands in the stands and television audiences throughout the world. For Calvin Smith, the decision is poignant. For as before, he has always given far more to his sport than he has received.

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