Former soccer player winning on the track


The best laid plan sometimes goes awry. Gavin Smellie transferred from George Harvey Collegiate Institute to Dante Alighieri Academy in North York six years ago to hone his soccer skills and compete for one of the dominant schools for the sport in Ontario.

When the striker found out that he had to sit out for a year because he had switched schools, he was devastated. The dejection was brief, however, as Smellie decided to try out for the school’s track and field team that season.

With no formal training, he made it all the way to the Ontario Federation of Schools Athletic Associations (OFSAA) championships in 2004, finishing fourth in the 200-metre event.

With the help of family friend Ben Johnson who trained the soccer player-turned athlete for two years up until 2006, Smellie secured a scholarship to attend Western Kentucky University (WKU).

“Looking back, I am quite happy with the way things have worked out for me,” Smellie told Share last week while taking a break from a training session at York University where he was preparing for the World Track and Field championships in Berlin next week.

“I grew up playing soccer and then to have it suddenly taken away for a whole year was not something I was prepared for. When the opportunity came to try out for track and field, I looked at that as a chance to perform in another sport and keep athletically active until I could resume playing soccer in high school after a year.”

Smellie heaped praise on Johnson for helping him to develop into a world-class athlete.

“He had me working out seven days a week on everything from speed and endurance drills to weight training and swimming,” said Smellie who came to Canada from Jamaica in 2001. “Ben pushed me really hard in those two years to be the best I can be and it really helped.”

Western Kentucky’s coach Erik Jenkins spotted Smellie at the Pan American junior championships in Windsor in 2005 where he finished sixth in the 200-metre event in 21.08 secs. and was a member of the second place 4 x 100-metre relay team that clocked 40.25 secs. and the third-place 4 x 400-metre relay side that breasted the tape in 3:09.50.

“We liked the fact that he could run 55 metres up to 400 metres,” said Jenkins. “I also liked the fact that Gavin was a very impressive young man who was well grounded, came from a good family and was interested in academics. That meant that after we were able to sell him on our program, we knew we were getting a quality individual.”

Smellie left here last Monday to join the rest of the Canadian squad in Dusseldorf for a one-week training camp before the world championships.

“Gavin has competed against and beat some of the best sprinters in the world to earn a spot on Canada’s 2009 world championship team,” said Jenkins. “This is an outstanding accomplishment for Gavin and a major step forward for our program. To have a student-athlete of Gavin’s caliber representing WKU in a meet of this magnitude is extremely exciting.”

Smellie completed his junior season last May in Louisville on a high note, clocking 20.45 secs. in the 200-metre event to capture the university’s first ever National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) individual regional title.

“For him to run 20.45 in the 200 says a lot for the young man,” said national track and field head coach, Alex Gardiner. “He has caught my attention as a former sprint coach.”

The Mississauga Track Club athlete, who is recovering from a lower right foot injury that affected his performance at last month’s national track and field championship at Varsity Stadium, finished sixth in the 200-metre event at the 25th Summer Universidad meet in Belgrade last month.

Smellie graduates with a Business degree next May.

“That is an important accomplishment for me and something that I know is important to my parents (Elisha and Georgia),” he said. “After that, I will run on a full-time basis and see how things go.”

Johnson predicts that Smellie will do well on the international circuit.

“I can see him running 20 seconds flat in the 200,” added Johnson. “He is a committed and dedicated athlete who is prepared to put in the hard work. He is also very humble and he listens, which is crucial.”

Smellie will represent Canada in the 200-metre event and he’s an alternate on the 4 x 100-metre relay team at the 12th outdoor world championships that start on August 15.

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