London Eye: She's buddies with Bolt but this golden girl revels in anonymity
Jamaica's Trecia Smith excels at triple jump but loves the unknown status London life affords her
Friday 10 February 2012
Beanie hat pulled down over her head, kit bag slung across her shoulders, Trecia Smith emerges from Baker Street tube station, past a poster featuring those garish one-eyed Olympic mascots and the message: "Let the Games begin."
The hordes queuing up outside Madame Tussauds don't give her a second glance. And yet, like Jessica Ennis, whose waxwork image stands inside, Smith is one of four female track-and-field athletes of British residency or nationality who have won World Championship gold medals in the 21st Century.
The other two, Paula Radcliffe and Christine Ohuruogu, would have heads turning in recognition on any street in Great Britain. Not Ms Smith. None of the patrons jammed into the basement of Starbucks gives a flicker of interest until the name of one of her team-mates is mentioned. The sharp-suited businessman on the adjacent table suddenly stops hammering away on his laptop and checks out the quietly-spoken woman sitting with her Chai tea latte and her ginger cake. He has heard of Usain Bolt, evidently.
Smith has been a Jamaican team-mate of the world's fastest man for the best part of a decade now. When she won her world triple jump title in Helsinki in 2005, Bolt was still an also-ran, finishing last in the 200m final there. Seven years later, and both are preparing for the London Olympics – Bolt as one of the planet's most recognisable figures, Smith as an adopted Londoner of absolute anonymity.
"Nobody knows me here," she says. "I can go about my business and nobody gives a toss, really. I like that. I like to blend in and be anonymous.
"Usain couldn't think of getting on a bus here. Everybody knows his face. He gets mobbed when he comes to London.
"I've known him a long time and I like the fact that all the success and fame hasn't diluted the way he is. He's still the same jovial trickster that he's always been. He's just a better athlete but he's still the same person."
The clowning "Lightning" Bolt has his first competition of 2012 this weekend: a gentle leg-stretcher of an outing over 400m at the Camperdown Classic meeting in Kingston, the Jamaican capital. Smith had an invitation to compete at the UK indoor championships in Sheffield but has decided to skip the indoor season to concentrate on being fully prepared for a summer outdoor campaign that will feature what for her will be very much a home-from-home Olympics.
The 36-year-old was born at Westmoreland in Jamaica but has spent the past nine years living, working and training in and around London. Formerly resident in East Finchley, she has settled in Watford. She works as a physiotherapist in central London and trains at Barnet Copthall Stadium, Brunel University and Willesden Sports Centre under the guidance of Frank Attoh, a former Great Britain triple jump international.
The engaging Ms Smith is also an enthusiastic member of Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers, earning points for her club at UK Women's League matches not just as a triple jumper but also as a thrower of the discus, javelin and hammer. Imagine Paula Radcliffe doing the high jump for Bedford and County AC, or Mo Farah pole vaulting for Newham and Essex Beagles. Or Usain Bolt negotiating the steeplechase water jump for Racers Track Club.
"I remember throwing the hammer in 2005," Smith says, "just before the World Championships, and people were saying, 'Shouldn't you be jumping into a pit?' I had so much fun. It took me away from thinking about the World Championships.
"I enjoy it because the pressure is off. You step out of your own event and just have fun, which is what the sport is all about."
For that Corinthian approach alone Smith deserves a medal. She was given the David Dixon Award as the outstanding athlete from any sport at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. After retaining her triple jump title, she remained in New Delhi afterwards, giving free use of her services as a physiotherapist to other competitors.
She laughs at the irony of having needed a good deal of treatment herself in the seven years since she became a world champion. A hip problem ruled her out of the 2011 World Championships in Daegu but she already has a qualifying mark that will put her in the Jamaican Olympic team this summer. "It does feel like I'm preparing for a home competition," she says, "even though I'll be wearing my Jamaican vest."
Last summer her training partner Yamile Aldama started wearing a Great Britain vest but Smith said she will not be pulling up her Jamaican roots. "I'll be honest: I have considered it," the Westmoreland woman says. "But in the same thought, in that same second, I disregarded it. I can't see myself in another colour vest.
"I know I live here and I've been here for some time but I just can't see myself stepping out for another country. It would feel disloyal to just switch like that. Yami's situation is unique. She's married to a Brit. She has ties here. Her kids were born here. She's lived here longer than I have. And Cuba disowned her when she left.
"It's different for me. I'm not married to a Brit. I don't have any family ties to Britain. I'm still Jamaican... I don't think I could ever change."
Olympic news you missed this week...
The rising young British pole vaulter Holly Bleasdale matched Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva height for height at the Pedro Cup meeting at Bydgoszcz in Poland on Wednesday. Both women cleared 4.68m but Isinbayeva did so at the second attempt, Bleasdale at the third, meaning the Russian won on countback. Bradley Wiggins' chances of winning Olympic time-trial gold have been boosted by a Court of Arbitration for Sport decision to ban Spain's Alberto Contador until 5 August because of his positive test for clenbuterol.
What's coming up...
Tomorrow and Sunday The world heptathlon silver medallist, Jessica Ennis, appears at the Aviva Indoor UK Trials and Championships in Sheffield. She contests the high jump and shot tomorrow and the long jump and 60m hurdles on Sunday. Dwain Chambers runs in the 60m on day two.
Tomorrow Usain Bolt runs in the 400m at the Camperdown Classic in Kingston, Jamaica. His training partner Yohan Blake is also likely to run 400m but in a separate race.
Vivian Cheruiyot Deserved winner of the Laureus world sportswoman of the year award for her 5,000m and 10,000m victories at the World Championships in Daegu.
Oscar Pistorius Winner of the Laureus disability award for his heroics in the 400m and 4x400m relay in Daegu.
Alberto Contador Out of the Olympics and the Tour de France because of his positive drugs test and subsequent ban.
Simeon Williamson False start disqualification in the 60m final at the Russian Winter meeting in Moscow.
auctionThe first 23 lots have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
healthJames Bond's alcohol consumption puts him at 'high risk' of cirrhosis, tremors... and impotence
musicPolice chief rejects rappers' claims that his work is as dangerous as law enforcement or military service
comedy'Fresh Meat' star sees off stiff competition from Alan Carr, David Mitchell, Graham Norton, Lee Mack and Sarah Millican to win top prize
tvSpoiler alert: Find out the result of a heated final show
Beatles rush out 'bootleg' album to defy EU copyright law
Harvey Weinstein reveals his secret weapon on-set
Now that an oil trader's drinking has got him sacked, will we all have to make do with an afternoon latte?
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba get nods for Best Actor, which no black Brit has ever won
Geoffrey Macnab reviews The Desolation of Smaug - the meat in Peter Jackson's Hobbit sandwich
peopleWhat advice would David Cameron give to his younger self?
- 1 Nelson Mandela memorial: ‘Bogus’ sign language interpreter made mockery of Barack Obama’s tribute in Soweto
- 2 Mystery of Epping Forest 'big cat' is solved
- 3 French café starts charging extra to rude customers
- 4 Australia incest case: Severely deformed children found in remote farming community after generations of inbreeding
- 5 Physicists discover 'clearest evidence yet' that the Universe is a hologram