Smith falls short of Olympics

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Southeast Missouri State product Miles Smith saw his dream of competing in this year's Summer Olympics come to an end.

Smith finished 12th in Monday's semifinals of the 400 meters at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. The top eight qualified for Thursday's finals.

The top three in the finals earn berths in the open 400 for the Beijing Olympics in August. At least three more -- and possibly five -- will be selected to compete in the 1,600 relay.

Smith, who completed his collegiate eligibility this year, needed to reach the finals to have a shot at making the U.S. Olympic team.

"We're disappointed. We wanted to run faster than what he did today," said retiring Southeast coach Joey Haines, who coached Smith at the Olympic Trials.

Smith's time Monday was 46.32 seconds, after his first-round time of 45.77 seconds Sunday, which was fourth-fastest in the field.

Smith, who has been set back by a hamstring injury over the past several months, finished sixth in the second of two heats.

Winning Smith's heat was 2004 Olympic gold medalist Jeremy Wariner, who has the top time in the world this year. Wariner clocked 44.66 seconds to lead all qualifiers for the finals.

LaShawn Merritt, who has the second-fastest time in the world this year, was second in Smith's heat with a time of 44.76 that ranked second among all qualifiers.

"I guess it was the combination of going so hard last night [in the first round] and all the work he missed [due to the injury]," Haines said. "But two months ago when he was laying on the track [injured], if anybody would have said he would finish 12th in the U.S. Trials, everybody would have laughed."

Despite Smith failing to reach the finals, Haines pointed out that to place 12th in the U.S. is no small feat.

"It's a great accomplishment, especially in an Olympic year when everybody comes out of the woodwork," Haines said. "I hope people don't view this as a failure. Finishing 12th in the country is not a failure.

"It's just been a miracle what he's been able to accomplish with the little amount of work he's been able to do. We've spent so much time just trying to get him healthy and not really training. It's been all about his talent and heart."

Haines said he can't help but continue to wonder what Smith might have accomplished had he not been hampered by hamstring problems the past few years.

Smith, a five-time All-American at Southeast, finished sixth in the 2005 U.S. Championships and earned a gold medal at that year's World Championships as a member of the U.S. 1,600 relay team.

Smith's top time from 2005 -- the last year he was healthy for an entire season -- of 45.16 seconds would have tied for Monday's fifth-fastest time.

But Haines said Smith still has a bright future in the sport, and should have another opportunity to qualify for the Olympics in 2012.

"Miles is finally healthy now and that's the important thing," Haines said. "He's not back in condition yet, but he is healthy and that's the first step.

"He's not finished. People are going to have to deal with him in four years. His future is ahead of him. It's just not in China."

Smith soon will start his professional career. He recently signed with an agent, who eventually will negotiate a contract with a shoe/apparel company. Smith will compete in several European pro meets over the next several weeks leading up to the Olympics.

"He'll start making money now," Haines said. "Miles will do well, and he's got his degree, which is important."

* 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.

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