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September 05, 2011
With their dazzling gold medal runs, sprinter Carmelita Jeter and hurdler Jason Richardson added luster to their mentor John Smith's coaching legacy
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September 05, 2011

Fast Company

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With their dazzling gold medal runs, sprinter Carmelita Jeter and hurdler Jason Richardson added luster to their mentor John Smith's coaching legacy

It was a scene that re-created recent track and field history. A newly minted world champion sprinter walked into the bowels of a stadium late Monday night in Daegu and embraced the coach who helped make the win possible, dissolving into tears in the coach's arms. Fourteen years ago the place was Athens, and the sprinter was a kid from Kansas City, Kans., named Maurice Greene, who had driven to Los Angeles and asked the coach to make him fast. That night in 1997 he won the first of his three world 100-meter titles. Greene sat down on a concrete curb and wept while the coach patted his back as if calming his own child.

On Monday night the sprinter was Carmelita Jeter, who at age 31 edged Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica in 10.90 seconds to become the oldest 100-meter gold medalist in world championship history. "My coach told me I've worked too hard to throw it away," Jeter says, "that I'm a warrior and I've got to go out there and fight for it."

They are two champions, multiple athletic generations apart but with the same coach: John Smith, 61, known in the sport as a gifted trainer and a trackside philosopher. He has trained gold medalists dating back to Kevin Young (400-meter hurdles) and Quincy Watts (400 meters) at the 1992 Olympics, and the steroid suspensions of several of his athletes have left the stain of controversy. "I've been at the track coaching athletes with the FBI watching me," Smith said on Monday. "I've been through a lot. This is a good night."

Jeter is in position to become the first woman to double in the 100 and 200 meters since Katrin Krabbe of Germany in 1991. (Kelli White of the U.S. doubled in 2003 but was disqualified after testing positive for a banned substance.) To complete the double in Friday's final, Jeter will have to take down three-time champion Allyson Felix of the U.S., who finished second to Amantle Montsho of Botswana in a thrilling 400-meter final on Monday night.

Smith's night, in fact, was doubly good. Not only did Jeter win the 100, but also, 20 minutes earlier, Smith-trained Jason Richardson won the 110-meter hurdles. Richardson was second across the finish line but was elevated to first when winner Dayron Robles of Cuba (the world-record holder) was disqualified for interfering with third-place Liu Xiang of China (the '04 Olympic champion).

Richardson, 25, had been the top hurdling recruit in the country, out of Cedar Hill, Texas, in '05, but he struggled to fulfill that potential during his college career at South Carolina. In the spring of 2010, like Greene years before, he moved cross-country to California to train with Smith and has since taken the leap. "The difference," Richardson said, "is working with a world-class coach."