© Copyright – 2012 – Athletics Illustrated
Jessica Smith of North Vancouver, British Columbia will be competing in the 2012 London Olympic Games in the 800m distance. She is a graduate of Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University and one of only four Canadian women to ever break the two-minute barrier at the distance.
The first was Charmaine Crooks who ran as fast as 1:58.52 and there is current Canadian record holder Diane Cummins who owns a personal best time of 1:58.39. During 2012 that number has doubled as Melissa Bishop of Eganville, Ontario also broke the barrier. Smith and Bishop’s times are 1:59.82 and 1:59.86, respectively.
Round 1 of the women’s 800m event happens Wednesday, August 8th. The full schedule is available online here.
Christopher Kelsall: Jessica Smith, you are an Olympian, how does that sound to you?
Jessica Smith: It sounds amazing. It is something I could only dreamed of becoming and now it has become reality. The title of being called an Olympian is still hard to get accustomed to.
CK: Has every relative and school friend under the sun contact you yet?
JS: Most of my relatives have been following my track and field journey for quite a while and are extremely excited for me. I have been overwhelmed by the immense amount of support that people have shown over the past few weeks and I cannot express how much it means to know that there are so many people cheering me on from all over Canada. It makes me feel so proud to represent our country.
CK: Interesting that until you and Melissa Bishop had great seasons this year, there had only ever been two other Canadian women to go sub-two in the 800m. Of course they were Charmaine Crooks and Diane Cummins, did you think you were going to get this fast, this soon?
JS: No, I did not expect to be running this fast at the age of 22. It has been a great season and I have felt strong and confident that faster times were on the horizon coming into the season.
CK: Has your volume and quality of training progressed this year?
JS: My volume hasn’t changed significantly, but more focus has been on the quality of training and staying healthy.
CK: What does a typical week of training look like for you?
JS: Usually, I have interval workouts on three days of the week with a long run on Sunday, one day off, and a couple easy runs on the other days.
CK: It must have been a perplexing feeling to be on the start line at the Canadian Olympic Trials with the various scenarios that could have played out. Can you take us through the race?
JS: There were a lot of mixed feelings during the Trials, but when it came to the finals and I was on the track I knew I was the only one who could control my own outcome and all I could concentrate on was living in the moment.
CK: Your plan must have been to simply play it safe and finish top three. Were you getting worried when Diane Cummins started to move in the final 300m and then again at 100m?
JS: Of course I knew I had to place in the top three, but there are so many uncertainties and the circumstances within the race can change so quickly, I had to be in the right situation at the right time and run my own race. I anticipated that someone might make a move with 300m to go and that the final 100m would be a strong finish from the field of women.
CK: So you had a sense of relief at the finish? Odd post-race feeling, I bet.
JS: Yes, there were many different emotions that surfaced after the race and relief was definitely one of them.
CK: It was surprising to see the race go as slow as it did, considering a couple runners needed to run sub-1:59.90 plus get a top three spot. When in the race did you sense that there was a likelihood of an all-out sprint ahead?
JS: I realized that the race significantly slowed down after the first 250m and after reaching the 400m mark I noticed that the race would not be fast enough for the other runners to get the required standard. With 300m to go the pace picked up and I felt the field turn over and therefore I knew that with a tight pack there would be a sprint for the finish.
CK: Obviously the season and trials worked out nicely for you, but what do you think about the trials happening on the final day of qualification? We saw for example Priscilla Lopes-Schleip and Diane Cummins not have their best days, yet with more time could have taken the standard.
JS: Yes, in my case and for many others, it ended up working out well but it is difficult going to a national championship and Olympic trials and facing the pressure whether it is making standard, coming top three or attempting to complete both of those criteria. Obviously there are many outstanding Canadian athletes who have worked extremely hard and have the experience to compete well at the international level, it is unfortunate that the circumstances limited their opportunity of making the team.
CK: Growing up in North Vancouver, did you run a lot of hills in the neighbourhood? I can’t see how you can avoid hills on the North Shore. Hills are your friends, right?
JS: Yes, I was surrounded by hills. Whenever you run down the hill, you are always reminding yourself that you have to go back up on your way home. Hills are my friends, but I can’t say that our friendship is always a good one.
CK: Speaking of friends, do you run the Grouse Grind?
JS: I have run the Grouse Grind a few times in my life, but not often because I don’t want it to interfere with the training I am doing on the track.
CK: What other sports did you play as a kid? At what age did you discover running?
JS: I played soccer, basketball, and participated in Highland Dancing. I competed in track and field in elementary school and once I got into high school I realized that I had enough talent to continue being competitive in the sport. I was becoming successful in the sport and that motivated me to join the Norwesters Track and Field Club in grade ten where I was coached by Frank Reynolds. By grade 12 I was convinced that there was a career beyond high school in the sport and was recruited by my current coach Brit Townsend of Simon Fraser University.
CK: It appears that the first round at Beijing in all but one heat the first finisher was 2:00 or slower. Does a tactical race play into your hands? Or do you prefer to go out in sub-60 seconds?
JS: No race is ever the same, nor do I expect any race to be perfect. I am confident that during the race, when I am required to make a tactical or positioning move I will make it in order to be in the best possible position to pursue moving on to the next round. It really won’t matter what my preference is for either a faster or tactical race because I will have to run the race keeping pace with the other women regardless of my own preference.