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Off to the races
Miles Smith to run in the USA Track and Field Championships
Miles Smith recently finished an impressive college track and field season -- but the year of competition is far from over for Southeast Missouri State's sensational sophomore.
After winning All-America honors with a fifth-place performance in the 400-meters at the NCAA Championships on June 11, Smith will compete in the USA Track and Field Championships, set for today through Sunday in Carson, Calif.
The top three finishers at the USA Championships will qualify for the United States team in the IAAF World Championships Aug. 6-14 in Helsinki, Finland. In addition, several of the other top finishers will be added to a relay pool for the World Championships.
"In a non-Olympic year, this is the second-biggest meet in the world, behind the World Championships," Southeast coach Joey Haines said. "It's an amazing accomplishment for Miles to qualify for this meet, which will include most of the top 400-meter runners in the world."
Smith qualified by virtue of his school-record time of 45.16 seconds -- which he achieved twice -- that has him ranked among the top 20 in the world this year.
There will be more than 20 competitors in the USA Championships -- Smith's top time is the 10th fastest among the entries -- with the fastest time 44.0 seconds by non-collegian Jeremy Wariner, which he posted in winning the 2004 Olympic gold medal.
Darold Williamson, this year's NCAA Division I champion from Baylor, is next at 44.27 seconds, which is the fastest time in the world this year. He also has the world's second-fastest time this year, 44.51 seconds, while Wariner's 44.53 is the third-fastest this season. The field features five of the seven fastest in the event this year.
"It's an unbelievably fast field," Haines said.
Smith will compete in the first round of the 400 tonight, with the semifinals Friday night and the finals Saturday afternoon.
"I used to dream about competing in meets like this," Smith said. "It's the most competitive meet in the world, and I'm really psyched."
Smith knows he will be a decided underdog to make the world team, but he pulled off plenty of surprises this year in rising from unheralded high school runner to among the best in the world -- and he is certainly not lacking for confidence.
"I know I'm going to have to run a lot faster, but I think I'm ready to do it," Smith said. "My goal is to make the United States team for the World Championships. I know I'll have to probably run in the mid to low 44s, but I feel like I can do that.
While Haines isn't about to put any limitations on Smith, the coach said reaching the semifinal round of 16 would be an impressive accomplishment, and making the eight-man finals would be a huge achievement.
"Making the semifinals is not the actual goal, but I would be happy if Miles did that, and making the finals would be tremendous," Haines said. "Miles thinks he can do anything, which is the kind of confidence you have to have to compete at this level.
"If all Miles does is make the semifinals, he's going to be disappointed, but there is so much competition. Some of the people ranked ahead of Miles, he has beaten, but some of the runners are professionals who have been able to set up their season around this meet, while Miles had to focus on the regional and NCAA meets."
Added Haines: "Miles continues to get better and I think he will run in the 44s. He closed very strong in the NCAA finals and I think he is ready for another big race. Miles is making a name for himself both nationally and internationally, and he's bringing great recognition to our track program and the entire university."
Regardless of what happens at the USA Championships, Haines and Smith both know that simply competing among the world's elite runners in such a major setting will add invaluable experience as Smith continues to chase his dream of qualifying for the 2008 Olympics.
"The ultimate goal of any track athlete is to make the Olympics, and right now this is the process you have to go through," Haines said. "The fact it's a world championship year, that adds pressure, but adding pressure is good for Miles.
"Just to be in a meet like this, it will do nothing but help him. It sets him up for the future."
Said Smith: "It's preparing me for the next three years, trying to get my goal."
* The 400 finals will be shown on ESPN, with a telecast from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday. ESPN2 will also have a telecast of the meet from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday.