By Dan Plouffe
Ottawa Lions sprinter Seyi Smith attended the IAAF world track-and-field championships last week in South Korea, but didn’t wind up competing since he was chosen for the alternate role in the men’s 4×100-metre relay.
It was his personal coach with the Lions that made that call as national team relay coach, but Smith fully accepted Glenroy Gilbert’s reasoning to keep him on the sidelines.
“In the back of your mind, you’re always hoping for that green light, but the four fastest Canadians were on the track,” acknowledges Smith, whose teammates posted quicker times this year in competition and in training. “This season’s been a bad season for me. I haven’t been able to run as fast as I would like, and I haven’t run as fast as last year.”
Canada didn’t have the showing it was after due in large part to the second leg runner’s back seizing up part way down the track to limit the team to a sixth-place heat finish in 39.28 seconds.
“I felt really bad for them,” Smith recounts. “A lot of those teams DQed or DNF in the opening rounds because of mistakes those teams made. In our case, it was just bad luck. No one could have really foreseen that and there’s no one to blame.”
The sombre finish to Smith’s competition season reflects the struggles he’s experienced throughout the year. It was tough mentally for the 24-year-old to wind up taking a step backwards when he puts so much effort into seeking improvement in any way to be a world-class sprinter.
“One of my old coaches in college told me that to be a good athlete, you have to be a 24-hour athlete,” Smith explains. “That means you don’t just push yourself at the track – when you come home, you do all the right things. You do your stretching before bed, you eat right and get as much sleep as you can.
“This year I made lots of sacrifices nutrition-wise with what I forced myself to keep myself from eating. In the end, it was a pretty bad season, so it was a pretty big letdown.
“But at the end of the day, I know what I’m capable of and I keep on pushing myself even with these setbacks.”
It also helps having a former Olympic gold medalist in his corner who’s been through the hard times himself and came out on top.
“That’s exactly what Glenroy says – every athlete knows there’s dips and highs,” adds Smith, who attended Brookfield High School in Grade 9 and 10 before moving to Rome, Italy when his father got a job with the UN. “You have to sort of grind through that, address the issues, and keep your head up. Don’t let the negative feelings drag you down.”
A positive mindset was Smith’s game plan for the meet in South Korea, where he paid keen attention to the world’s best athletes for anything he could apply to his own running.
“Seeing Usain Bolt or the Americans train and how they run, technically how they execute some things in their drills, I’m able to go back home and say, ‘OK, to get better, I need to do this and this,’” says the Nigeria-born athlete, adding that the success of Canada’s young female hurdlers in making their event finals served as a source of inspiration. “It’ll make me persevere more so that I can get that kind of result in my own competition.”
With a three-week “off-season” on deck now that he’s back in Ottawa, Smith plans to “just waste six hours straight and get that Call of Duty headache” since track business has kept him away from Playstation for a long time. But there’s also another thought that keeps burning in his head – the possibility of competing at the 2012 Olympics.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and now we’re less than a year away,” the Carlingwood-area resident notes. “Every training session we do, it’s always a stepping stone to London.”
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