NORTH Vancouver's Jessica Smith had the day of her young life on Sunday, meeting the Olympic A qualification standard while winning the 800-m title at the Harry Jerome International Track Classic in front of friends and family at Burnaby's Swangard Stadium.
The 22-year-old raced to a personal best time of 1: 59.86, beating the Olympic standard by four hundredths of a second while becoming just the fourth Canadian woman ever to run an 800-m race in less than two minutes.
"I'm not really quite calmed down yet - there's so much energy going through my body still," Smith said when contacted by the North Shore News the day after the race. "There's definitely been nothing quite like it in my life yet. It was a pretty special moment."
With the Olympic standard met, Smith will now just need a top-3 finish at the Canadian Olympic trials June 27-30 in Calgary to cement her spot in the 2012 Summer Games in London.
Smith came into this season with a personal best time of 2: 01.54, more than one and a half seconds slower than the Olympic A standard of 1: 59.90. The week before the Jerome she clocked a 2: 00.61 in Oregon, boosting her personal best and her confidence for Sunday's event. More so than her opponents in the race, the magic Olympic number hung over her as she prepared for the exhausting two-lap sprint on the Swangard track.
"I was nervous about whether or not I was actually going to hit the standard," she said. "I don't think anyone in an Olympic year is not thinking about the standard. Especially when you're so close to it. I knew there was some pressure to make sure this was the best race possible."
The gun went off and the rest is kind of a blur.
"To be honest, not much stands out in my mind," she said. "You're really so focused and so into the race that especially once you hit that first 200 (metre) mark you're kind of just getting your position. I slid right into the rail and was behind the two leaders. At 400 I wasn't even sure what the split was. I felt fine going through the 400 and then coming up to 600 I felt like I had more in me and I could kind of feel that the pack behind me was coming on so I took my chance and I got out of the rail and went outside and just took off from there."
Smith couldn't see her time as she made her way down the final stretch so she just focused on running right through the line.
"When it comes down to that last little bit at the end (every inch) definitely counts," she said. "That last few hundred metres I just pushed it and gave everything I had."
In the moments after she crossed the line she still didn't know whether or not she had done it.
"There's no big scoreboard up there so I didn't know my final time," she said. As she searched for an official time clock she glanced up into the stands at her friends and family who apparently knew more than she did about her result.
"When everyone threw up their hands and started screaming I figured it was good news," she said. "I was just pretty much engulfed by teammates and friends and family and my coach was there. It was an incredible moment."
Great moment or not, it was still just second-hand news for Smith. She didn't see the actual digits until several minutes later when she got a printout of the official results in the scorer's tent. She needed those numbers in her hand before she could let it all out.
"Just to make sure that they were real," she said. "At that point it's kind of surreal because with all the adrenaline going through your body it's like, 'What just happened?'"
There's still one final hurdle for Smith to clear to get to London, but in beating the Olympic standard she overcame what was by far her highest obstacle. Smith and Melissa Bishop of Eganville, Ont., who finished third in Sunday's race, are the only Canadian women who have met the Olympic A standard for 2012.
"There's still something hanging over my head, I've still got a race to focus on, but I feel a little bit of pressure taken off for sure," said Smith. She struggled to find the words to describe what it would be like to get her first taste of the Olympic Games.
"It would be an outstanding experience, it would be incredible," she said. "I don't even know, I don't know what it would be like. I've never experienced something as huge of an accomplishment as this. This was quite a big step in my career."
Smith, in fact, was aiming more at an Olympic appearance in 2016.
"This year was kind of like, if it happens of course I'll be thrilled and overly excited but if it doesn't I still have time, I'm young, I'm just starting to realize where I fit in in the racing world and learning through experience," said Smith, an Argyle secondary grad who finished up her illustrious racing career at Simon Fraser University last fall. "I couldn't have said back in high school that I would be standing here saying that I ran under two minutes and headed towards London. It's unbelievable how much you can improve and shatter your own expectations."