North Vancouver runner Jessica Smith overcame her most demanding year of athletics to win a place at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
“It’s been a different season because my mind has been on the Olympics,” said the 22-year-old who finished in the top three in the women’s 800-metre run at the Olympic trials in Calgary last month to qualify for Canada’s Olympic team.
She said the competition this year is fierce, with extremely difficult times to beat.
“You have to prove that you’re the best in Canada, and that you should be representing Canada,” Smith told The Outlook while visiting her old training track at Handsworth secondary school. She is one of only four Canadian women in history to finish under the two-minute mark in the 800-metre race during the Harry Jerome Classic at Swangard Stadium last month.
“I didn’t place too many expectations on making the team. I always said if it happened, it happened and that would be fantastic, and if it didn’t, I’m still young and have a couple years to improve.”
Smith was aiming for the 2016 Olympics — when she will be 26, the peak age for runners — but is excited to get a chance at the Olympics four years earlier than planned.
“In 2016, I’ll be in hopefully even better shape and having 2012 under my belt will give me more experience and knowledge of what to expect.”
So far, Smith says she isn’t too nervous about competing.
“I’m usually pretty composed and focused once I’m on the track. I get in that zone, and nothing else around matters.”
Smith is trying not to change too much about her training routine before the Olympics because her schedule has obviously paid off based on her successful year.
She started running while at Fromme elementary in North Van, and became more involved in the sport as a student at Argyle secondary school when her twin brother invited her to a cross-country practice. But she didn’t become serious about track until she started training with North Shore track-and-field club NorWesters in Grade 10.
“I never stopped running after that,” said Smith, who hopes Handsworth will still have a running track after the high school is rebuilt on top of it.
Smith now runs for Simon Fraser University, where she is majoring in criminology and minoring in education.
“I didn’t want to simply drop everything just to train for the Olympics because you put too much pressure on yourself. It worked out great.”
She is heading to London later this month to take part in the opening ceremonies, where she is excited to meet Canada’s flag-bearer Simon Whitfield, an Olympic triathlete from Victoria.
North Vancouver gymnast Brittany Rogers has also qualified for the Olympics, placing third in the deciding competition. The 19-year-old, who trains at Flicka Gymnastics in North Van, has been on the Canadian National team for six years, and has won medals at the World Cups in Croatia and Germany.