Southeast Missouri State product Miles Smith is one step closer to qualifying for the Summer Olympics.
Smith had the fourth-fastest time in Sunday's first round of the 400 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., to make the field of 16 for tonight's semifinals.
"I felt good. It was real cool," said Smith, who completed his collegiate eligibility this year.
Smith, who has been set back the past several months by a hamstring injury, had a time of 45.77 seconds, which is not far off his season-best time of 45.67 seconds recorded early in the outdoor campaign.
Smith entered the Olympic Trials ranked 23rd among 28 competitors, but he moved up 19 spots by finishing fourth in the day's fastest heat that included LaShawn Merritt, one of the world's premier 400-meter runners.
Merritt led all runners Sunday with a time of 45.30 seconds in a heat that featured the day's four fastest times.
Smith was nosed out for third place in the heat with a time that would have won the other three heats. He was one of just seven runners to finish under 46 seconds.
"We were really excited with the way Miles ran," said retiring Southeast coach Joey Haines, who is coaching Smith at the Olympic Trials.
The top three in each heat automatically made the semifinals, with the next four fastest times also qualifying.
"We knew going in that his heat was the fastest heat," Haines said. "Miles' strongest point is he's always there. The faster the heat was, we knew if he was in the middle of it, which he always is, he'd be in good shape."
The top three finishers at the Olympic Trials earn berths in the open 400 for the Beijing Olympics in August. At least three more -- and possibly five more -- will be selected to compete in the 1,600 relay.
Eight of the 16 runners in the semifinals will advance to Thursday night's finals.
"I'm very excited [for the semifinals]," said Smith, a five-time All-American at Southeast who won a gold medal at the 2005 World Championships as a member of the U.S. 1,600 relay team. "I know I'll have to run a lot faster, but I know I can run a lot faster."
Haines is confident of that.
"Tomorrow things will heat up, but Miles can heat up too," Haines said. "The big thing is that Miles feels good and is confident. He's going to run faster tomorrow."
Tonight's semifinals, set for a 9:25 p.m. start, will be shown on a taped basis by USA Network, which is televising from 10 p.m. to midnight every day this week.
Another local product, Scott City's Loren Groves, will compete in the first round of the women's hammer throw Thursday. Groves recently completed her junior season at Kansas State University.