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Thursday, June 20, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsSt. Croix’s Speedy Smiths Burning Up the International Track

St. Croix’s Speedy Smiths Burning Up the International Track

Michelle Smith crushing the competition in 2022. (Submitted photo)

When Michelle Smith hears the starter’s pistol at the CAC Games in El Salvador Monday night, it could very well be a repeat of a record-setting race in 2022.

All was even as each runner got her feet into the blocks that day in Jamaica, aligning their fingers just behind the starting line. After that, it wasn’t even close. By the first turn, Smith was already pulling away. A few hurdles later, she was all alone, leaving two Jamaicans and a Trini flailing far behind.

Smith’s 2022 CARIFTA Games record-setting 400-meter hurdles run — 58.61 seconds, more than 3 seconds faster than second and third place — put the track world on notice.

She hasn’t slowed down. In February, Smith was ranked the world’s No. 1 under-18 in the 600-meter race. Her 1:29.52 time beat the Virgin Islands national indoor record and the record of the Orlando, Florida-area private school she attends. It made her the ninth fastest high school girl at that distance in history.

Now 17, Smith is in the Central American And Caribbean Games’ semi-final race. She posted a 400-meter hurdle time of 56.66 already but was bested by Gianna Woodruff in a preliminary heat. The 19-year-old Panamanian finished in 54.46 seconds. Their head-to-head matchup is at 6:40 p.m. (USVI time) Monday.

Michelle’s sister is Mikaela Smith, holder of the Virgin Islands 800-meter indoor record. Both tore up the track at St. Croix’s Educational Complex before taking their talents to the mainland, said their first coach and proud father, Keith Smith.

It was always going to be that way. Malik Smith, 25, was born to run. He begged and begged until at 6, his father and mother, Eastern Michigan University track sensation Mireille Sankatsing-Smith, allowed him to join an all-ages cross-country race. Sankatsing-Smith looked back some ways into the race to find her son right behind her.

Mikaela, 22, burned up the track at St. Croix Educational Complex, setting school record after school record until Michelle came along and started rewriting them.

“It’s an Olympic cycle set of children, you know,” Keith Smith said. “It wasn’t planned that way but it just so happened that way.”

The ultimate goal is to make it to the Olympics, he said. But even making it to regional finals is a huge achievement.

“For our regional competitions, making it to the finals is huge. Getting to the world championships in Budapest is, you know, one of them could make it there and then just moving on to the next round would be huge. It’s the top 30 athletes in the world,” he said.

Mikaela started running at 2, an age when most children are still masting walking. Michelle came to the sport comparatively late, at just four years old.

At first, she didn’t want to run. But she watched closely.

One day, the toddler secretly decided she would run. She called her grandparents, other family and friends and told them they need to watch her run.

“The rest was history because once they get out there and they demonstrate they are actually good at it and they start winning they fall in love with it,” Keith Smith said. “They see what their parents are doing. And that’s a big part of it. When you and your wife do something and the children can see how much fun you have, they naturally gravitate towards it.”

Watching at an early age teaches lessons that couldn’t be learned later in life.

While they are specialized in their events now, as children, they were encouraged to compete in many events — from sprints to pole vaults.

“It’s so they can get a good foundation and growth from an early age, and strength so that when you get older you can move into a particular event or two and have that base and foundation of strength so that the body can actually deal with the rigor of it,” he said. “It’s better for developing, better for longevity, and better for sustainability in terms of any athlete’s development and future performance.”

The family atmosphere, the natural beauty and restorative power of St. Croix, and the keeping busy of a year-round sport helped shape the pristine athletes’ minds and bodies, he said.

“I think all those things make a difference, although I think a lot of people don’t realize that,” Keith Smith said. “I’m proud because the things that I preach and the things that I teach and the thing that I promote are being emulated and displayed by the people that come out of my household.”

Michelle Smith races in the 400-meter hurdles at the CAC Games in El Salvador at 6:40 p.m. (USVI time) Monday.

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