Coach Smith trains Olympians
With much passion and talent, world record holder in the 440 event, John Smith highlights the potential of participating track athletes.
Leading multiple athletes on Team USA as well as international track teams to Olympic victory is the ever-inspiring “man behind the curtain” John Smith. Most recently voted Sports Science Coach of the Year (in 2011 by the United States Olympic Committee), Smith is dynamically multi-dimensional. As a Sports Consultant with Nike, he is recognized and respected by sports federations both nationally and internationally. Also hired as a speaker, Smith fortifies his sports philosophy by motivating audiences to achieve professional goals.
Considered the godfather of “the drive phase” sprint technique, Smith is “a taskmaster with the Midas Touch.” Receiving accolades that reflect diversity in aptitude, it’s safe to say that his experience didn’t begin behind the curtain. While Smith fulfilled the position of sprint coach at UCLA (from 1984 to 2002) and of Olympic Coach, earning medals from 1988 to the most recent London Olympics, Smith first gained knowledge and strengthened his skills running the 440 yards (now known as the 400 meters) while competing for UCLA. In his junior year and as co-captain of the track team, Smith led his team to two NCAA national track championships in addition to setting a world record in the 440 yards in Eugene, Oregon. As a result of the meter distance change, the record set by Smith is one that can never be broken.
Going on to represent the United States in Munich, Germany at the 1972 Olympic Games, Smith was considered the favorite to win gold in the 400 meters as he advanced to the finals. Unfortunately, Smith was unable to finish the race due to a hamstring injury that forced him to limp off the track after the race and forfeit his opportunity to medal. Although his Olympic prominence as a world record track athlete was cut short, his athleticism shined through; warranting his draft, attributed to his speed, as a wide receiver by the Dallas Cowboys immediately following the 1972 Olympic Games. After two years, Smith decided to return to his passion of running, only to be told by the Amateur Athletic Federation (the governing body for track and field at the time) that he was sentenced to a life-time ban from track competition due to his participation in professional football.
Following years of court litigation, in 1980 Smith regained his status as a track athlete winning the right to compete nationally and internationally. However, Smith would have to defer his passion to win the gold for another four years when, then President, Jimmy Carter prevented the US Olympic Team from competing in Moscow in protest of Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.
In 1984, preceding the commencement of the Los Angeles Olympic Games, Smith retired at 34 years old when he accepted the position of UCLA sprint and hurdles coach. Smith transferred his dream of earning a gold medal as an athlete to pursuing the similar journey of coaching athletes towards realizing their potential/dreams of winning the gold. The statistics of Smith’s coaching legacy point to his athletes earning more gold, silver and bronze medals than many other participating countries in the Olympic Games. Currently under his wing are London Olympians Yousef Ahmed Masrahi – Saudi Arabia, Blessing Okagbare who carried Nigeria’s flag into the Olympic opening ceremony, Richard Thompson (Bronze Medalist in the 4×100 meter relay – Trinidad), Ryan Bailey (Silver Medalist – United States – anchored the 4×100 meter relay setting an American record), Jason Richardson (Silver Medalist in the 110 hurdles – United States) and Carmelita Jeter (Gold Medalist – United States – anchored the 4×100 meter relay setting a world record also winning Silver in the 100 meters as well as Bronze in the 200 meters).
Smith, who considers character to be equally as important as talent in his athletes, is a product of rich upbringing. Born August 5, 1950 in Los Angeles, CA, Smith’s parents migrated to California from Chicago and Oklahoma. Smith’s father, who served in the Navy in Southern California, decided to make Los Angeles home. Attending Charles Drew Junior High School and Fremont High School, Smith witnessed the Watts Riot first hand and declares that The Uprising, as well as other by products of discrimination and racism in the turbulent ‘60s, only strengthened his drive to pursue and accomplish his goals.
According to Smith, he and his London Olympians are grounded, fueled by their faith in God. Smith’s idea of preparing his athletes for competition, in addition to a rigorous training schedule, is inviting them to fellowship and worship with him, Bishop Charles Blake as well as his church family at West Angeles Church of God in Christ; all of which Smith reveals contributes to the spiritual anchor that keeps their feet on solid rock. Similarly, Smith takes pride in his family life. Happily married and a proud father, he expresses gratitude for his support system, which inspires his distinguished work ethic. Smith has definitely created a legacy worth celebrating! Congratulations, Team USA!