World's fastest woman Carmelita Jeter seeks Olympic gold
By David Leon Moore,
23 June 2011
CULVER CITY, Calif. — Carmelita Jeter, the fastest woman in the world, is so famous and so hounded by fans and news media that she shows up for her workout and …
The gate to the track is locked, and she has to climb over a chain-link fence.
The bathroom is locked, too.
"School's out right now," Jeter's coach, John Smith, says on this mid-June morning at out-of-the-way West Los Angeles College.
"But they leave the track open for us."
Jeter, who has run 100 meters faster than any woman except the late Florence Griffith Joyner, works out on this community college track four days a week with some of Smith's other sprinters. There are few observers or distractions.
"It's quiet," Smith says. "There aren't a lot of people here. We get our work done."
That work will get tested today and Friday in Eugene, Ore., where Jeter will compete at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Her first heat in the 100 is today. The women's 100-meter final is Friday (11p.m. ET, ESPN2).
At stake is a spot on the U.S. team at track's world championships in Daegu, South Korea, Aug.27 through Sept.4.
If Jeter, 31, is ever to raise her profile significantly to mainstream sports fans and become, say, a tenth as famous as the world's fastest man, Jamaican world recordholder Usain Bolt, this summer and next summer is when it must be done.
"I have to win medals," she says. "That's the No.1 thing. Usain Bolt did win the Olympics and did win worlds."
Jeter has won an outdoor national championship before, and she has won two world championships bronze medals in the 100.
But she has never won a race at the world championships or Olympics. In fact, she has never been to the Olympics.
Even now, people routinely mispronounce her name. It rhymes with "better," not "meter."
In 2008, seemingly in her prime, 28 years old and a world bronze medalist, Jeter failed to make the finals at the U.S. Olympic trials.
"It was hurtful," Jeter says. "It was very hurtful. It definitely made me sit down and figure some things out. And I was fortunate to get with a great coach."
Jeter wanted to stay in Los Angeles, and she was drawn to Smith, considered one of the top coaches of sprinters in the world but also dogged a few years ago by media accounts linking him with steroids dealer Victor Conte during the BALCO investigation.
"I came to John in 2009," Jeter says. "Anything before that had absolutely nothing to do with me. I was thinking of a person who had numerous athletes who had run well, and I wanted to be one of them."
She did, so much so that in 2009 she ran a personal-best 10.67 at the IAAF World Athletics Final in Thessaloniki, Greece. It was the fastest time in 11 years, putting her third fastest all time behind Griffith Joyner and Marion Jones.
A week later, in Shanghai, she ran 10.64 to become second fastest behind Griffith Joyner, who died in her sleep at age 38 because of a severe epileptic seizure.
Griffith Joyner never tested positive but was suspected of doping. Jones has admitted cheating. Now Jeter, with the drastic improvement at a relatively advanced age, is asked questions about performance-enhancing drugs, though she has never tested positive.
"It's very unfortunate that when you run fast, that's the first thing someone thinks," she says. "It's unfortunate that a person can't be just training hard and putting everything together.
"But whatever sport you play, criticism is a part of it. You just have to be strong enough to handle it."
Jeter has started off fast this season — a 10.70 three weeks ago at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene.
From here on out, the big picture is to stay healthy and focused for the Olympics next summer in London.
"I have to get to those Olympic Games," she says. "That's very important to me."