Class of 2014: Calvin Smith did it right way
This is the fifth in a series about the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014.
When we were doing the highlight video for Calvin Smith’s new Hall of Fame exhibit, I asked him where he got his speed. I asked because Calvin wasn’t a heavily muscled guy like most sprinters. “A lot of my speed obviously was Godgiven,” Smith said. “But a lot of it was hard work.” None of it was artificial. In a period when many of the world’s fastest human beings tested positive for steroids and other performance enhancers, Smith was clean. “Whatever happened, I knew I was going to do it the right way,” Smith said.
If Calvin Smith were to walk into your living room, you would never guess he once held the title of world’s fastest human for approximately four years. Smith, for certain, would never tell you.
He is an humble, soft-spoken man, never one to toot his own horn. He never sought the
spotlight. And, for much of his career, he ran in the shadow of Carl Lewis, who never shied away from cameras or microphones.
Born January 8, 1961, in Bolton, Smith first ran track at Sumner Hill School in Clinton. Coaches saw him run in physical education classes in the eighth grade and talked him into coming out for the high school track team. Smith did go out for track — and abruptly quit.
“I didn’t realize all the work involved. I couldn’t take it,” Smith said.
He went out again in the ninth grade and that time, he stuck. In fact, he won the state title in what was then the 220-yard dash as a high school freshman. By the time he was a senior, he set a Mississippi high school 100-meters record that would stand for 33 years. Most big-time college track programs recruited him. He chose Alabama over UCLA and Mississippi State. His career was about to take off.
While with the Crimson Tide, Smith earned eight All-America honors (outdoors and indoors all four years), and won the NCAA 200 meter championship in 1983. He won four SEC championships.
On July 3, 1983, Smith dazzled the track and field world when he ran 100 meters in 9.93 seconds, breaking a 15-year old world record. Also in 1983, Smith became the first athlete to run 100 meters under 10 seconds and 200 meters in under 20 seconds in the same event at Zurich.
Smith won an Olympic gold medal as part of the US. 4 x 100 team in the 1984 Olympics at Los Angeles, setting a world record in the process. He won a bronze medal at 100 meters in the 1988 Games at Seoul in one of the most famous races in track and field history.
Canadian Ben Johnson crossed the finish line first, Lewis second, Linford Christie third and Smith fourth. Johnson tested positive for anabolic steroids, elevating Smith to the bronze medal, which he received underneath the stadium, without ceremony, a day later. Of the five top finishers in the race, Smith was the only one who never tested positive for any banned substance. In his heart of hearts, Smith believe he deserved the gold.
“What can you do?” Smith said. “In many cases, the sport was condoning the athletes taking drugs. Ben was typical of what was going on in the sport there.”
Smith continued to compete at a high level into the 1990s as one of the most respected sprinters in history of the sport.
He is now a social worker in Tampa, Fla. His son, Calvin Smith, Jr., was an All American runner at the University of Florida and part a world record setting team in the 4 x 400 relay team.
Next: Richard Williams.