Entering a national competition as the favorite to win the title can be a little unsettling, as Tucker Smith discovered last week.
The 12-year-old Columbus resident was seeded first in the shot put in the boys 11-12-year-old division in the USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships in Jacksonville, Florida. The way Smith’s father, Tom, described it, Tucker Smith turned pale and became ill.
But that didn’t stop the Southside Elementary sixth-grader from living up to his pre-meet reputation. He led the shot put from wire to wire to bring home the national championship.
“It was nerve-racking,” Tucker Smith said. “I had stomach cramps. I had fear of getting beat by a little bit after being ranked that high.”
Smith, who threw last in the order, took the lead on his first of six throws. He bettered that mark on his fifth toss, which went 13.91 meters (45 feet, 7¾ inches).
After finishing third in the USATF nationals in the 9-10 division two years ago in Greenville, South Carolina, Smith set state and regional records in the shot last year, but didn’t go to the nationals in Houston. This year, he won the state and regional in both the shot and discus, but did not throw the discus at nationals, where he was seeded third.
“He probably could have won that one, too, but his grandfather passed away, and we buried him the Friday before he left,” Tom Smith said. “He was really close to his grandpa. He got to watch him from the big sky.”
Meanwhile, Tucker’s sister, Linley Smith, won the state title in the shot in Valparaiso and finished third in the regional in Chicago in the girls 9-10 division. She was seeded 15th and finished ninth in the national meet with a throw of 7 meters, three centimeters from qualifying for the medal round.
“It was exciting, and I was very nervous about competing,” Linley Smith said. “I was pretty disappointed I missed the medal round because I got really close to it. But I was proud of myself.”
Linley Smith, 10, a fifth-grader at Southside, just started throwing this year and was competing in her first national meet.
“Tucker has had four years of practice,” Tom Smith said. “Maybe not next year, but the following year, they both should be lined up to compete for a national title, now that she’s more involved.”
The 5-foot-8, 195-pound Tucker Smith also plays basketball and played football until this year. His father said he projects to be 6-4 to 6-8 by the time he stops growing.
Tucker Smith’s favorite sport is track, and his favorite event is the shot.
“It comes easier, I guess,” he said. “And I enjoy practicing it more.”
Linley Smith also plays basketball and volleyball. She picked up throwing the shot and discus last year.
“I wanted to try it, and then after that I started to like it, and then after that, I wanted to do it in a meet,” she said.
“She’s still in the beginners’ stage, but she has made progress the few sessions that we had this season,” said Danielle Wynne of Wynne-Wynne Sports Performance. “She’s on track to follow in her brother’s footsteps.”
Wynne has been coaching Tucker Smith the past three years and Linley Smith for the past year. The Smiths, who compete for Columbus Running Club, throw with Wynne two to three times a week at Central Middle School.
Tucker Smith has moved from a hopping technique in the shot put to developing a spin move.
“He’s made that progression very easy,” Wynne said. “He’s very coachable. That’s a key. He is a good thrower because he can internalize what he did wrong. There’s a lot of coaching involved, but he knows what a good throw feels like. He can produce those throws in clutch time.”
Name: Tucker Smith
School: Southside Elementary
USATF Junior Olympic Nationals performance: Won the shot put in 11-12 boys division
Name: Linley Smith
School: Southside Elementary
USATF Junior Olympic Nationals performance: Finished ninth in the shot put in the girls 9-10 division