USC’s Smith to dine with Olympian

Published Jul 28, 2014 at 1:50 pm (Updated Jul 28, 2014 at 1:50 pm)

As a runner who covers 800 meters in well under two minutes, James Smith requires no head start against anybody. However, the Upper St. Clair native will get a jump on the Liberty Mile competition this week when he dines with Olympic silver medalist Leo Manzano.

The Pittsburgh Marathon extended an invitation to Smith and six other male and seven other young runners for a VIP meet and greet with the professionals racing in the Liberty Mile. Dubbed the fastest race in Pittsburgh, the Liberty Mile will be run in waves beginning at 7 p.m. Aug. 1 at Penn Avenue.

At 6 p.m. July 31 though, Smith will attend the VIP dinner at the Blue Line Grille with Olympians and professionals competing in the event. Among them is Manzano. The 29-year-old clocked a 3:34.79 at the 2012 Olympics. Manzano will be pitted against other sub-4 American milers including Jordan McNamara, Jack Bolas, Michael Rutt, Daniel Quigley, Tony Jordanek and Frezer Legesse.

“This is something really cool,” said Smith, then added enthusiastically to check out the times Manzano has run for a mile. “This is really exciting.”

“I’m thrilled with the invitation,” he added. “It’s nice to get recognized for being a decent runner.”

Smith is more than a decent runner. This spring, he shattered the district record in the 800-meter run. In winning the WPIAL title, he eclipsed the mark of 1:53.50 set in 2002 by Matt Evans from Hempfield with a gold-medal mark of 1:52.23.

Due to severe pain caused by plantar fasciitis, however, Smith was unable to challenge for a state title. His foot injury prevented him from competing in the PIAA championships.

While the invitation to meet some of his running idols took some of the sting away from that disappointment, Smith said it still was a “reminder that he did miss out on an opportunity at states.”

Smith will not let the chance to consult with his peers slip away Thursday. He will attend the dinner with his future college roommate, Fritz Isaac, who was a standout hurdler and jumper at North Allegheny.

“If I could ask Leo anything, it’d probably be details pertaining to being a professional runner, because as a track fan you don’t really get any of that, as opposed to in mainstream sports where you have basically [other athlete’s] whole lives being published on television,” Smith said.

Depending upon where his track career goes at Lehigh University, the son of Roderick and Patricia Smith could have such a public life. Born in Spain, he could run for that country in a Summer Olympiad. While he admits that is ‘extremely unlikely,’ Smith does not give up hope. “As long as I’m running track,” he said. “That’ll be the ultimate dream.”

Another quest is running pain-free. For his plantar fasciitis, Smith wears orthopedic inserts in his running shoes. After breaking the WPIAL record, Smith spent much time on crutches and in physical therapy. “Recovery has been long and hard and frustrating,” he explained.

In fact, Smith’s first run after his injury was three laps around the track. “It was really painful and slow,” he said. On a good day, right now, Smith is capable of covering three to six miles.

He anticipates being ready to run at Lehigh, where he will major in finance and accounting while competing on the track and field team.

“I just want to train and run as hard as I can and see what happens. I don’t know what to expect when it comes to how my body will react, and how being in college treats me,” he said. “I’m not sure what the long term has in store but I’m optimistic.”

comments powered by Disqus