Athletics: Trecia's gold for Jamaica has London glint

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The Independent Online

When Smith packs her bags this morning, she will have a gold medal to bring back home with her in her hand luggage - back home to East Finchley, that is. She might have hopped, stepped and jumped to victory in the yellow vest of Jamaica, but Smith's remarkable triumph over physical adversity in the Olympic Stadium last Sunday night was forged in north London. For the past two years she has lived in East Finchley and trained at Copthall Stadium in Barnet. She is also a member of Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers, a particularly enthusiastic member.

Indeed, the 29-year-old native of Westmoreland - Westmoreland, Jamaica - talks more excitedly about her most recent points-gathering exploits in the black-and- white club colours once borne with distinction by Dave Bedford than she does about her stunning World Championship victory.

"I competed for Shaftesbury the Sunday before I left for Helsinki," Smith said, propping her crutch against a seat. "I was third in the hammer and won the shot. I was also first in the B section of the javelin. Yeah, I was quite pleased."

Throwing the hammer (30.61m), the shot (13.39m) and the javelin (37.76m) would not be text-book preparation for a World Championship triple jump competition but that is what Smith did in a UK Women's League Division Two match at Rugby precisely seven days before she made history as Jamaica's first female field event world champion. It says a lot about the highly affable, highly articulate and highly grounded Trecia-Kaye Smith, to use the name that she signs - a woman with a refreshingly healthy outlook on track and field. It also says a great deal about the great British triple jump guru who has guided her to the top of the global pile. "I think we've got too many prima donna athletes, not wanting to compete to enjoy it," Frank Attoh said. "To me, it was a good way of keeping Trecia's mind off the serious stuff ahead at the World Championships."

It has been a rich irony that, while Lord Coe and others have been calling for UK Athletics to look overseas for coaches to revive the fading pulse of British track and field, Attoh has returned to London to resume his unofficial, unsupported role of nurturing world-class talent at Copthall each night - after finishing his daily duties as a design and implementation manager with British Telecom, that is. Attoh himself was no mean triple jumper, a Great Britain international and twice a bronze medallist at the AAA Championships. As a coach of the hop, step and jump, though, he has few peers. He has guided four athletes to top-five places in the Olympics: Ashia Hansen, Larry Achike, Yamile Aldama and Smith, who was tantalisingly close to a medal in fourth place in Athens last year. In Helsinki last Sunday, Smith finished on top of the podium, with Aldama - another adopted Londoner and Shaftesbury Barnet Harrier, a native Cuban representing Sudan on the international stage (after failing to gain British citizenship in time for Athens) - in fourth.

"The Frank factor is 80 per cent of what I have achieved out here," Smith reflected. "If it hadn't been for Frank I don't think I would have made the top three in Helsinki or the top four in Athens, because he completely changed the way I approached triple jump. It's one of Frank's pet peeves, but I hadn't even heard of him when I decided to come to London in 2003.

"I'd finished my degree in Pittsburgh [a Masters in physiotherapy] and I wanted to come to Europe to concentrate full-time on track, to get more experience competing on the European circuit. Tessa Sanderson was my agent at the time and she put me in touch with Frank, after I was turned down by John Herbert [the coach of European long jump silver medallist Jade Johnson]. John said he didn't have the time to give me the attention he thought I would need. I have no hard feelings. It worked out to my benefit, because I ended up being coached by Frank and training with Yamile.

"I'm quite content in London. The bombings do worry me. I find myself taking the bus more now, rather than the Tube. But at the same time I feel somewhat more secure in London than I did when I was living in the States. Over there, nobody thought anything would happen in a million years. But you guys have a history behind you and you've dealt with it better. That makes me feel more secure."

Smith's biggest fear today is telling Attoh she will be getting back to Heathrow too late for training. She has been told that the ankle she damaged last Sunday will stand up to the rigours of further competition this summer, if supported by strapping, and she intends to be back in action at the Weltklasse Golden League meeting in Zurich on Friday night. "I'll be there, with bells on," she pledged.

In the longer term, there are no limits for Smith, according to her coach. "If you see the world record go, don't be surprised," Attoh said. "With her power and strength, Trecia is just awesome." She was certainly awesome last Sunday. In the second round she jarred her ankle and in the third suffered what was subsequently diagnosed as a tear in the deltoid ligament. Her response? She took the lead with a jump of 14.91m in the fourth round and made the gold safe with a distance of 15.11m in the fifth and penultimate round. It was a truly supreme effort, equal to Carolina Kluft's victory in the heptathlon while suffering from a near-identical problem.

Unfortunately for Smith's adopted homeland, her triple jump success was achieved in international colours she has no intention of swapping for red, white and blue. "I'm sorry, but I'm Jamaican through and through," she said, when asked about the possibility of jumping for Britain. Still, at least East Finchley has a golden girl it can be proud of - an Iron Lady with a Midas touch.