August 1, 1996
Smith not dead yet
By KEN FIDLIN -- At The Olympics
ATLANTA -- If this were an election, the TV networks would have declared Mike Smith dead in the Olympic decathlon before the sun went down on the first day.
And they might just be right.
The numbers look grim. Now the numbers don't always reflect the reality in decathlon, but Smith was ready to face the truth when his first day was done.
"Some of the events were okay but the high jump and the 400 were terrible," said Smith, looking absolutely exhausted after what can only be termed a disastrous day.
"I felt very lightheaded during the high jump and I got an (intravenous) in between the high jump and the 400. "But in the 400, I just felt stiff and slow. Obviously I didn't have very much."
After five events, including a pathetic 400-metre wobble that took an excruciating 51.97 seconds, nearly five seconds off his best time, Smith is in trouble. He sits in 16th place, 427 points behind leader Dan O'Brien and nearly 300 points out of a medal spot.
He has no hope at gold. Any medal would be a stretch.
Smith is still on track to finish in the 8,550-point range and there are only a couple of men in this field who have been able to amass that kind of a total.
Beyond that, he still has at least three of his stronger events ahead of him while many of the men between him and the medals have already had theirs.
But any hope of a comeback depends upon his mental state. Late last night, his mental state was somewhere between wonky and depressed.
Smith began the day with a 15th-place finish in the 100 metres, not one of his strengths. In the past couple of years, Smith's athletic profile has changed. He has sacrificed some speed on the track for a dominating presence in the throwing events.
Still, he managed a time of 11.08 seconds to put him immediately 33 points ahead of his winning pace at Goetzis, the most prestigious decathlon competition outside an Olympic Games or World Championship.
The long jump was the most disappointing aspect of the first-day events for Smith. He landed a leap of 7.47 metres on his initial jump but could not better it. At Goetzis, he leapt 7.72 metres.
In the shot put, however, Smith uncorked a personal best 16.95-metre heave, then beat it by 2 cm with his second throw.
That moved him up from 15th to eighth in the overall standings.
The high jump, while not a complete fiasco, turned the entire day from neutral to sour. Smith was life and death to clear 1.95 metres and failed on his three attempts at 1.98. Actually, his jump at 1.92 was his best of the competition, probably clean enough to have cleared 2.05.
Smith's personal bests in the 100 metres (10.70) and in the high jump (2.14) were accomplished during a different segment of his career.
Since he moved to Calgary under coach Les Gramantik, Smith has added about 15 pounds and it reflects in his domination of the throwing events.
But gravity tugs harder at a heavier body and the clock ticks a fraction faster now than it did even a few years ago, especially in the sprints.
Does the improvement in strength offset the diminished speed and jumping ability?
"Clearly, yes," Smith said. "I've never scored better than this year. At my last meet, I'm told I was the first guy in history to make more than 2,700 points in the shot, the discus and the javelin.
That makes him a strong second-day player since the javelin and the discus are up today. However, he is so far behind now that it would seem an impossible task to catch O'Brien for the gold.
After the high jump, Smith trailed O'Brien by 186 points and only a blind optimist would give him a snowball's chance in Atlanta of catching the world champion.
But each of the others have flaws that Smith should be able to exploit today to work his way through the pack and into medal contention by the time they all line up on the track, nearly dead from exhaustion, for the 1,500 metre run, late tonight.
"Years ago, the first day was my best," said Smith before yesterday's competition. "But now I have more of an advantage in the later events. In a field like this, I might be able to sneak up on some people.
"It helps me keep my equilibrium because I always know that no matter where I stand, I can come from behind if I have to."
Lord knows, this is one of those times.
"I'll just approach it like I would under any circumstances," said Smith.
That might not be enough.