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July 2024

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Carmelita Jeter pays tribute to Coach John Smith

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Jeter learning from her mistakes – “No one is ever guaranteed anything”
By Mike Rowbottom
- Samsung Diamond League website

Talking to the wonderfully named Carmelita Jeter, whose form this season has established her as the dominant force in women’s 100 metres running, you get an overwhelming sense of a driven athlete.

And this 30-year-old Los Angeles resident, who goes into this weekend’s Aviva London Grand Prix as the clear event leader in the Samsung Diamond League, is swift to identify what she believes was the turning point in her career – her failure to qualify for the 2008 Olympics.

“I really try not to think ahead,” she says with a chuckle. “I’ve done that before, I never count my marbles before I actually get them in case I never actually get them. I’ve counted on things before, and sometimes that makes you not as aggressive, kind of lax, because you are thinking that you are guaranteed something. No one is ever guaranteed anything. You learn from your mistakes.

“I’m pretty excited that the Olympics is going to be in London. God willing I’m praying that I definitely make the team. I failed in that department in 2008 and I definitely want to take the chance in 2012.

“2008 was a horrible feeling. I had just won a gold in the relay and bronze in the 100m at the 07 World Championships. I went into 2008 with a big head, with the idea that I was going to be given a spot on the team without having to earn it and I got a reality check.
“And it enabled me to sit down with my agent Mark Block and think ‘What am I going to do now?’”

What Jeter did next was to put her career in the hands of John Smith, whose coaching charges have included the former World and Olympic 100m champion Maurice Greene.

“A lot of times you hear people say everything happens for a reason,” Jeter says. “Did me missing 2008 get me to go to John Smith? I don’t know. But everything does happen for a reason, and now I can go into 2012 with this man who has developed me into the second fastest woman ever.”

That achievement came towards the end of last season, where in the space of a week Jeter became the talk of the athletics world – briefly overshadowing even the illustrious Usain Bolt – by running 10.67 in Thessaloniki and then 10.64 in Shanghai, thus moving ahead of Marion Jones in the all-time list behind the 10.49sec run by the late Florence Griffith-Joyner.

As Jeter is swift to acknowledge, such accomplishments were met by suspicion in some quarters given the continuing impact of Jones’s subsequent punishment for doping abuse.

“I did get a lot of attention, some good, some bad,” she says. “It helped the women’s sport. One thing I noticed was a lot of women ran a lot faster this year. I think it’s great to have that progressing in the right direction, with women running 10.7, 10.6. Because it’s about time. I mean, the men break the record every year."

Some criticisms hurt more than others.

“My grandmother watched a race of mine on YouTube and some of the comments underneath were really cruel,” Jeter says.” She is 83, and she got really emotional. I think that’s probably the only thing that hurt me more than anything. I have pretty tough skin. But when it gets to your grandmother, it’s a little close to home.”

But Jeter is moving towards next year’s IAAF World Championships in Daegu, and the Olympics beyond, with a new sense of confidence which stems from the work Smith has been doing with her.

“He took my race apart from the beginning to the end and pretty much what he did first was make me very strong – strong enough to hold the positions he wanted me to hold.

“He went through my race from the start to the 10 metres point, from 10 metres to 30 metres, and then when I stand up, all the way to the finish. He completely tore my race apart.

“If you compare the way I raced in ’07 with the way I race now, side by side – totally different runner. When you go to work with John Smith and his camp you have to be willing to be totally transformed. And if you’re not willing to be transformed and you’re still holding on to what you learned from someone else then you will not progress.

“When you work with the best coach in the world you let him be the coach and you be the student. The main focus he believed would be a big difference would be my strength. In ’07 I weighed 125lb and I still went 11.02. So he wanted to work on my physical and mental strength, so I would be able to line up and be aggressive.

“Right now I am 133lb. In mid-season I might look a little heavier, sometimes I’m around 137. But that’s all muscle.

“We lift about four times a week. Lifting is really big in his programme, but I don’t want to say that’s the only part of his programme that he feels is a plus because he is really strong on technique. He will blame me for losing a race by saying I didn’t do something technically. I will watch it again and I can agree with what he says.”

It was something which happened in the Eugene Diamond League meeting, where Jeter had her only blip of the season so far in finishing behind the Jamaicans Veronica Campbell-Brown and Shelly-Ann Fraser.

“Don’t get me wrong,” she says,” I give Veronica and Shelly-Ann credit for that race, they came ready for that race. I was training for three weeks, and that was my first race after being so loaded. And if you saw that race I looked really big at that meet. I was about 137, and I was heavy from a lot of the training, so the one thing he told me before the race was ‘If you don’t execute, these women are going to beat you.’

“And when the gun went off I did not execute. And they definitely did that. When you are running with that calibre of women, you can’t run them down. You have to get out with them. And when I don’t listen to him, I don’t win.”

Getting the working relationship with Smith was not an easy process, however.

“At first it was really hard,” she says. “I was really aggravated and frustrated. Every day I felt like he was nitpicking on me. And I would go home and call my dad and say ‘I’m so tired of this.’ I just felt like a little kid. But my dad said ‘Just relax, baby girl, relax. He knows what he’s doing.’ And after my first 100 I thought ‘Yesss! Maybe he does know what he’s talking about.’ It was at Mount Sac, and I equalled my PR of 10.97. And I wasn’t close to knowing everything still – I was still fighting him. But then after that race I completely said ‘OK. Let’s see what we can do.’

“In Thessaloniki I felt like I had run a 10.80 something, or a 10.90. My coach says, ‘when everything feels right, you will feel slow.’ So everybody was looking around and I was like ‘What’s going on?’ And when I saw 10.67 I started screaming and hollering. I knew exactly what he’d said was happening. Because when I try to run fast I always run slow. But when I do my technique and I’m patient is when I run the fast race.”

With two more races left – London and Zurich – Jeter’s main target for the season is to finish without injury.

“You really can’t be mentally high for so many years,” she says. “My coach changed my training this year, he said that your body can’t take so much every year. You have to go down and up. Next year is an important year, and I have to come out again.”

Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF

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