In Appreciation of Calvin Smith, by Justin Clouder
This profile is of a man who, although a World Record breaker in the 100m and a double 200m World Champion, spent most of a fantastic career overshadowed, primarily by Carl Lewis.
In my view Calvin Smith is one of the best 100m runners never to win a world title. His consistent high performance, dedication, hard racing and unceasing good nature have endeared him to track crowds the world over during a career lasting from 1979 to 1996.
Calvin Smith was born on 8th January 1961 and was 5'10" and 140 lbs. His distinctive head back style and fantastic leg speed made him easy to pick out on the track.
After running 9.6 for 100y and 21.5 for 220y in 1978, he improved to 10.36 and 21.22 (20.7h) in 1979, taking the US junior 200m title. The following year, while still a junior, he twice ran 10.17, once behind Stanley Floyd's 10.07 WJR, and also clocked 10.12w and 20.64, taking a pair of silvers in both the US junior and Pan American junior champs.
After a relatively quiet year in 1981, Smith climbed to top World class in 1982, running 10.05 and 9.91w at 100m and 20.30 and 20.20w at 200m. He won his only US senior title, at 200m, and produced a performance clearly superior to the WR of the time (Hines' 9.95 at altitude) with his 9.91 clocking in a match against the GDR in Karl Marz Stadt. The wind reading was a tantalising 2.1 m/s.
Smith finally claimed the WR in 1983, running 9.93 at the 1800m+ altitude of Air Force Academy. This was the start of Carl Lewis's reign at 100m, however, and Smith had to settle for second in the first WC in Helsinki. However, he did win the 200m and ran his customary blistering 3rd leg to help the US to a WR of 37.86 in the 4x100m. Later in the year he produced a 9.97 / 19.99 double in Zurich, the first ever sub 10 / sub 20 one night performance. The 100m time matched Lewis' low altitide World best from earlier in the year, while the 19.99 left Lewis well behind to silence the doubters who claimed that Smith only won the 200m because of Lewis' absence.
If 1983 was Smith's best year, 1984 was a disappointment. He finished 4th in the 100m Olympic trials and ran only in the relay (another WR, 37.83) in LA. Season's bests of 10.11 / 9.94w and 20.33 were not what the WR holder would have wanted. 1985 saw times of 10.10 and 20.14, a victory in the World Cup 4x100m and a 200m Grand Priz title. Consistent world class form was maintained in the champs-free 1986 (10.14 / 20.29).
Come the next WC, in 1987, Smith retained his 200m title in a very close race (he had, as in 1983, qualified for the US team in 3rd place at the trials). However, 5th place in the 100m trials kept him out of that event, although his form on the European tour prior to the champs suggested that a medal would have been likely.
1988 was an amazing year for 100m running, and Smith raised his game as well. He ran 9.87w in both semi and final at the red hot Olympic trials to make his first Olympic individual event (also placing 5th in the 200m). He repeated his 9.97 low altitude best to lose to Lewis (9.93) but beat Ben Johnson (10.00) in the key Zurich race prior to the OG. At the games he became the first man to run under 10.00 and finish lower than second, and the fastest non-medallist ever, until Johnson's disqualification raised him to bronze.
Although that was the end of championship racing for Smith (except for 3rd in the 1992 World Cup and 1st in the Relay), he remained a fixture on the European circuit, producing year on year marks of 10.05/20.30 (89), 10.04/20.54 (90), 10.38/21.32 (91), 10.14 / 20.70 (92), 10.06/20.50 (93), 10.22/20.78 (94), 10.25/20.71 (95), and 10.25 (96). He was still capable of pulling top performances out of a hat, not least when giving Linford Christie a fright with a 10.06 in Edinburgh in 1993.
Overall, Smith has 4 times under 10.00 (plus a further 6 windy), 16 times under 10.10 (plus 10 windy) and 40 under 10.20 (plus 16 windy). He was under 10.20 in 12 seasons, 9 of them in a row from 1982-1990.
In addition to all this, Smith always proved a charming man and a popular competitor. Tribute should be paid to a great athlete who was unlucky enough to run at the same time as some of the greatest sprinters of all time. Along with Ralph Metcalfe, Eulace Peacock and Charlie Greene, without doubt one of the best sprinters never to win a world 100m title.Justin Clouder