Tucker Smith won a USATF Junior Olympic title in the shot put two years ago, but he wasn’t in position to win a medal this year after a subpar throw in the regional.

But the week before the national championships, something clicked for the Northside Middle School eighth-grader. He threw a personal-best by 3 1/2 feet to win his second national title in three years.

“It was fun,” Smith said. “I really wasn’t expecting it because I threw a PR by (3 1/2) feet. We were able to get three or four practices in before that meet, and in those practices, I made a lot of progress in pretty fast time.”

Smith and his father Tom credited Columbus Running Club coach Randy Stafford and Danielle Wynne of Wynne-Wynne Situation Sports Performance with getting him ready between regional and nationals.

Tucker Smith threw 48 feet to win the 13-14-year-old boys state competition at Ball State and threw 47 feet to take the regional at Northern Illinois. But at the nationals at Kansas University, he was at the top of his game.

On his first throw at Nationals, Smith uncorked a throw of 53 feet, 3 inches, a personal best by nearly three feet. That gave him a lead he would not relinquish.

Smith threw 51-2 1/3 on his second attempt and 52-8 3/4 on his third try. Then on his first attempt in the finals, he unloaded a 54-0 and nearly duplicated that with a 53-11 3/4 toss on his fifth attempt.

Trace Houston of Hot Feet Track Club in Overland Park, Kansas, finished second at 52-11 1/2.

“We thought (Tucker) could win with 52, but when he threw that 53-3, it kind of came out of nowhere,” Tom Smith said. “The whole field behind him struggled badly because that would have been a huge number for them. You see a lot of fouls in the top eight kids because they were going crazy trying to throw it really hard, and that doesn’t work with shot put because there’s so much technique.”

Tucker Smith, who also plays basketball at Northside and plans to attend Columbus North next year, threw the 4-kilogram shot 50-6 as a seventh-grader this spring. He also won Junior Olympics regional in the discus with a throw of 130 feet, but was ranked only 24th in that event and did not do it at the national meet.

Meanwhile, Tucker’s sister Linley Smith finished 14th in the 11-12 girls shot put. The Central Middle School seventh-grader threw 31-7 1/4.

Another Columbus athlete, Adrienne Salemme, finished 15th in Girls 15-16 pole vault. The North sophomore vaulted 10-2.

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.