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Calvin Smith — November, 2022
Calvin Smith is the 1983 and 1987 World Championships Gold Medalist in the 200-meter dash. He broke the World Record for 100 meters in 1983, clocking 9.93 seconds. Calvin ran the third leg on both the 1983 World Championships and 1984 Olympic 4x100 meter relay teams. Both squads won Gold Medals in World Record times of 37.86 and 37.83 seconds, respectively. Smith is also the 1983 World Championships Silver Medalist at 100 meters and 1988 Olympic Bronze Medalist at 100 meters. On August 24, 1983, Calvin was the first to run sub-10 seconds for 100 meters and sub-20 seconds for 200 meters on the same day with times of 9.97 and 19.99 in Zurich, Switzerland. In major international competitions, he earned a Gold and two Silver Medals at the 1980 Pan Am Juniors, Gold and Silver Medals at the 1981 University Games and Gold and Bronze Medals at the 1992 World Cup. Calvin was ranked top ten in the world by Track and Field News ten times at 100 meters and seven times at 200 meters. At the U.S. Championships, he earned One Gold, one Silver and six Bronze Medals. While representing the University of Alabama at the NCAA Championships he scored three Silver Medals. Calvin competed for Sumner Hill High School in Clinton, Mississippi where highlights included seven Alabama State Championships, four at 100 meters and three at 200 meters. His personal best times are: 100 meters – 9.93 and 200 meters – 19.99. Calvin’s Hall of Fame inductions include the USATF HOF in 2007, Mississippi Sports HOF in 2014 and Alabama Sports HOF in 2016. His biography, ‘It Should Have Been Gold,’ was published in 2017. He graced the cover of Track and Field News in October, 1983 and December, 1987. Calvin resides in Tampa, Florida with his wife, Melanie, and was very gracious to spend an hour and forty minutes on the phone for this interview in October 2022.
GCR: THE BIG PICTURE At the top of our sport, there is always talk about earning medals on the world stage and breaking World Records. You broke the World Record for 100 meters, were World Champion at 200 meters, were a member of two World Record four by 100-meter relay teams that earned Gold Medals at World and in the Olympics and may have received more Gold Medals if not for chemical substances used by your opponents. Do you have a sense of accomplishment and pride that you truly succeeded and did it by performing the right way?
CS I’m very happy and proud of what I have accomplished in track and field. I think the major point for me is that it was something I enjoyed doing. With that enjoyment, it brought many other items. I had a very long career in running that did so much for me. It helped me financially. It gave me the opportunity to travel around the world and to have my college degree paid through a scholarship at the University of Alabama. Track and field inspired me all those years ago when I grew up in Mississippi and went to high school. I wanted to leave Mississippi and not go back and felt the way out was through the opportunity to get the scholarship and do the things I wanted to do in life.
GCR: As you look back on your running career and the solid years of strong training and racing, what was it that drove you to aim to reach your potential rather than just participate and how exciting was it to be putting in the hard training and racing and pushing yourself to try to reach your ultimate best in terms of times and competition?
CS My goal, and most athletes’ goal, is to do the best we can and to be ready to go. Especially in the later part of the track season, I didn’t want to be beat. In the early season, I was working on form and trying to get myself together. But the later season is about making it and being one of the top athletes. That is what I wanted to do because there were other goals down the line like the Olympics. Training hard was not an option, but very necessary, particularly with what was going on in sports with some athletes using drugs. I knew I had to work harder than most athletes who were out there running. I would go and work out and realize that the competition was going to be great from talented athletes and others who were taking drugs. So, I pushed myself to work harder and go the extra mile. I knew what I needed to do if I wanted to be one of the greats. I always had the thoughts to do my best and to give more effort.
GCR: Many of us are a product of what happens when we are very young. How did growing up in a large family in a small town, losing your father to hypertension when you were five years old, and seeing how hard your mother worked to support your family instill values in you that helped you to succeed in life?
CS When I was growing up at a young age and saw how my mother had to work hard and saw my older brothers and sisters doing what they did to make it, I thought this wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. I wanted more. When I was running in P.E. class and playing football, my teammates all thought I was fast. When I was running against other classmates and kids in the community, the coach saw me and felt that I had some potential. That was a big spur that I could make a change for myself and do what I wanted because I did want to leave the state of Mississippi. That was a big motivator to keep training hard. All the encouragement from my mother, teammates, and sisters and brothers thinking that I had potential gave me more confidence that I had a talent. I went with it and believed it. I knew it takes hard work to accomplish anything which is why I went down that road.
GCR: In your autobiography, ‘It Should Have Been Gold,’ cowritten with Kerry Kendall, there is much discussion about athletes using chemical substances to enhance their performance illegally and unfairly. We will explore more details later, but how damaging to our sport is it when, to this day, nearly every time there is a great performance, most of us wonder if it is real or chemically enhanced?
CS It has truly hurt the sport. When anyone runs a fast time, there is the thought, ‘Are they on drugs or what?’ That is unfortunate. It is because our governing bodies over track and field did very little to try and stop drug use among the athletes. They let it go. Some athletes were on drugs and ran great times, so it is hard to not think that. But I’m sure there are plenty of athletes who are not on drugs that are running fast times. However, it’s hard to not have suspicions.
GCR: In the big picture, track and field athletes talk about competing for their country. How special was it at the 1980 Pan Am Juniors in Sudbury, Canada and the 1981 University Games in Bucharest, Romania to pull on the USA uniform, have it on your chest and represent your country and to bring home two Gold and three Silver medals?
CS Those particular meets were around the beginning of my post-high school days and the start of my college days. To go out and do well was an inspiration that I could race strong and may be able to run against the big guys later. To be able to travel to those places and run against the best athletes around my age and to compete well against them was a big booster and gave me a lot of encouragement that there were better races to come in my future. Also, it boosted my morale. Earlier, my high school teammates and coaches had my believing that great things could happen. It was very encouraging to go to those meets and place high.
GCR: How exciting was it two years later in 1983 to qualify for the first time for a World Championships and was there a different feeling in 1984 when you made your first Olympic team even though you race most of the same athletes?
CS The World Championships in 1983 was a big step. Being able to win the first World Championship in the two hundred meters was a big boost for me and gave me a lot of confidence. We were running against basically the same athletes in the Olympics but, from year to year, runners come and go. There are always some new athletes, and it is all about having your best race that one day. You can be the best one day, and the next day someone can beat you. The game plan must be put down and then you go out and do your best. The 1984 Olympics was my first Olympics, and I was proud to compete. It was sad that just before the Olympic Trials I hurt myself. Though I was still able to make the Olympic team, I wasn’t able to qualify in an individual event. But it was a blessing to make the team despite my injury. It was a little disappointing because I was ready to go at that time before the Trials. My shape was one of the best of my life. Unfortunately, injuries happen. I had to deal with that and not let it get me down. It happened, but I had confidence in myself, knew it would be okay, and kept pushing forward.
GCR: Let’s look at your 1983 World Championships 200-meter Gold Medal race in Helsinki. Can you take us through the final, how you felt at the start, coming out of the blocks, and during each of the segments as you went into the turn, came off the turn, started down the homestretch and raced to the finish?
CS I wanted to get out fast and knew that Elliott Quow and other athletes would be ready to race. I was in great shape and got out. When I was in the middle of the turn, I did what I normally did. I would relax a little bit but keep up the pace I was on. Then coming out of the turn, I picked it up. When I came out of the turn and saw where I was, I felt very good at that time. By the time I ran from one hundred meters left to eighty meters remaining, I felt that this was mine. I tried to relax and lift my knees and took it through. At about fifty meters to go, I thought, ‘Oh yes, I’m going to get this.’ I had been running well in the two hundred meters and it was just my race at that point.
GCR: What were your thoughts as you crossed the finish line as World Champion, after the race when you were being congratulated, and on the podium when you received your medal?
CS When I crossed the finish line, it was the greatest finish line because it was the first World Championships. To be the winner in the two hundred meters was very special based on the fact it was the first championships. I felt very good and was excited that I had done something special. I ran around the track and was very proud. When I stood on the podium and heard the National Anthem played for what I had accomplished and achieved, it felt so good. It was one of those moments as an athlete that I was aiming for in life. I truly enjoyed that moment and embraced it.
GCR: In August of 1983 you become the first athlete to run under 10 seconds for 100 meters and under 20 seconds for 200 meters in the same day with times of 9.97 and 19.99 seconds, respectively, in Zurich, Switzerland. What was the feeling then and how do you reflect now on being the first person to accomplish this feat?
CS The meet in Zurich was always a great meet. Their fans are some of the greatest fans in all the world. It is one of the best places to compete. The fans got our blood flowing and the adrenaline going. There were also some great athletes there and I knew I had to run fast. But I was feeling good that day after I did well in the one hundred meters. I knew I could run strong in the two hundred meters, plus I was the World Champion. I stayed focused and didn’t let other athletes get me out of my game plan. To be able to run under ten seconds and under twenty seconds was a great feeling. I was ready and achieved a milestone that was very good. That boosted me onward to aim to do well in the future.
GCR: After your career, you were recognized with Hall of Fame inductions including the USATF HOF in 2007, Drake Relays HOF in 1988, Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2014, and Alabama Sports HOF 2016. Is it both an honor and humbling to be recognized and how special is it to share these days with your family and friends?
CS To be able to be recognized for my achievements is very good because I could reflect on what I had done as an athlete. The achievements and all the hard work I had put forth for all those years was being looked at as a great accomplishment. Having my family there, especially my kids, since they could see that I had done things out there in the world prior to them, helped them to see that with hard work great things can be achieved. It was a terrific honor to be recognized at all those induction moments. It made me feel good that after I had retired my running career was looked at as a great achievement.
GCR: Many fans of the sport don’t think about athletes’ retirement at relatively young ages and that they take new pathways. When you retired from professional running at the age of thirty-six, how did you combine youthful life experiences and what you learned from your parents and mentors with skills you learned as a world class athlete during the past twenty plus years as you worked to help others as a teacher, with non-profits assisting those in need and in other areas?
CS When I was growing up, what I learned from my mother was to treat everyone right. I took the motto, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ I treated everyone with respect. That was the key that I learned early. Throughout life, that is what I have done. As I finished my running career and went into my next career, when I was teaching, I tried to help people to better themselves and not to put them down despite whatever problems they might have or what they have gone through. We all have gone through challenges and had different situations, but the most important thing is what we can do now to better ourselves. That is what I have done in my teaching and nonprofit jobs is to try and motivate people to do better.
GCR: WORLD CLASS RACING Let’s chat about your World Class racing and what better place to start than with your 1983 World Record 100 meters in 9.93 at the National Sports Festival in Colorado Springs which broke Jimmy Hines’ record set in the 1968 Olympics? Did you see that World Record as within reach, was it surprising and how exciting was that?
CS It was very exciting, and I didn’t see that coming. It was a meet that I wasn’t originally going to because, when we had the national meet, Emmitt King and Carl Lewis were the two top runners from the south. However, both declined. I had such a hard collegiate season, and my legs were tired. But the organizers asked me, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ I did have some rest before the Sports Festival. I went there with the attitude that I was there to run and get the race done. I think that the hard collegiate season of running so much – the four by 100-meters, four by 200-meters, mile relay and 100 meters with rounds - had my legs tired. Now, they were getting the rest they needed. I got in the blocks, hoped to run it strong and hoped that my legs felt good. My start was a decent start. It has always been inconsistent – bad, mediocre or great. But I had a good start, got out and just ran. Fortunately, I ran very comfortable. It was a very relaxing race for me and turned out to be a World Record. It wasn’t a race that I focused on with a lot of effort as I had done for other races. When I was walking afterward, there was talk that it was a World Record and that was a shock to me. It felt so easy in a sense. As I have talked to many other runners, it is common for us to have our best races when we don’t think we are running fast. It was a great moment for me and a moment that I will never forget. Few people get to set a World Record and I am honored to be one of those people who was able to set a World Record in my career.
GCR: We spoke about 1983 World Championship 200 meters where you earned the Gold Medal in 20.14 seconds which you followed up in the 100 meters with a Silver Medal in 10.21 seconds. Speaking of World Records, you ran third leg on the 4x100m relay with Willie Gault, Emmitt King and Carl Lewis which took down both the Gold Medal World Record in 37.86 seconds. What was it like on that relay running the turn when the four of you broke the World Record?
CS On that relay with those three guys, I knew that we should run a very fast time. I had no idea that it would be a World Record. We came together as a group and our handoffs clicked which was one of the greatest aspects of the race. I had no notion that it would be a World Record, but all four of us felt good and everyone was running fast. Everything clicked together with the fast runners and the handoffs. I got the stick from Emmitt King and just ran. I have been called one of the greatest turn runners and I ran the turn strong. I passed it off to Carl Lewis and it was a World Record. Any time you set a World Record is a great moment and, being able to share it with three other guys, was very good.
GCR: Then you came back in the 1984 Olympics and, as you mentioned, ran with an injury. In the 4x100m relay there were two different runners on the first two legs, Sam Graddy and Ron Brown, before you and Carl Lewis ran the final two legs as you had in Helsinki the year before. Was there even more pride that you ran with an injury, you may not have been sure if you would make it through your leg, but you ran great and the four of you broke the World Record by three hundredths of a second in 37.83?
CS It was very satisfying for several reasons. One, it was the Olympics. It was my first Olympics and being able to set a new World Record and break the one we set the year before was big. Yes, my leg was hurt, but no on knew it was hurt but me. The leg I hurt before the Olympic Trials was doing pretty good, but it was not completely okay. As I ran at the Olympics, I knew I could do it, but I was going to put all the pain from my leg away. As we did the rounds, it ached, and it ached quite a bit. But I knew I could do it because, with the help of God, all things are possible. I put the injury out of my mind when I raced. In each round, when I got the baton, I didn’t feel any pain at all. It was all about getting the stick and giving the stick off. It was a very blessed moment to get through all of that, be okay, and come out with another World Record. To be able to get on the Olympic podium and have the National Anthem played at an Olympics was a very big moment. It is comparable to the Super Bowl if an athlete plays football. We had reached the highest point in track and field and had achieved it with a Gold Medal. So, that was a very great moment for me.
GCR: You mentioned your ability to run the turn which was very helpful in your ability to race the 200 meters. Most track and field fans are focused on the 4x100 meter anchor leg, but the third leg is so important. What is it, whether it is the 200-meter turn or the third leg of the relay which has allowed you to be such a great turn runner in both events?
CS I’m not sure, but it is a God-given talent. I relax well and run the turn. I didn’t do much training for it, but it was a natural ability for me which I am thankful for. My success also had to do with specific focus at different points of the turn and how we would race in each of the lanes. It came naturally for me, and I stayed with whatever it was. It helped me out in my races and I’m appreciative.
GCR: We’ve discussed some slight injuries and, when it came time to defend your World Championships title at 200 meters at the 1987 World Championships, you had a groin injury. Can you take us through that race as it was so close with the Frenchman, Giles Queneherve and you both timed in 20.16 seconds. How were you able to pull off that effort and defend your title?
CS Prior to the 1987 World Championships, I had a slight groin injury, but it wasn’t too, too bad. Then I did something I didn’t normally do, and to me, the injury worsened because of what I did. I went to a chiropractor who was with the USA team, and he was going to help my groin area improve. But it got worse. I got treatment between rounds at the World Championships, but after each round it felt worse. But I was determined to go out, to do my best and give my all. The greatest thing that happened was that for the finals I got an outside lane. That was a blessing because it was less of the turn that I had to run. In this case, the turn and my injury were not a good mix. Running the turn made my leg hurt more. I had more straightaway by running in lane seven. I didn’t run the first part of the race as fast as usual because of the pain in my leg. Once I got to the straightaway, I could run faster, and it didn’t hurt as badly. Once I got in the home stretch, I just ran lightly all the way to the finish line and, fortunately, I was able to win the race. After the race, I talked to the USA team trainers and they said, ‘We can’t believe you made it through this race. Your leg was so bad.’ In each round and in the finals, I had to have the strong willpower that I wanted to win, and I could do it. I blocked out the pain until the race was over. After that race, my season was over as my leg was too badly injured. I couldn’t run any more that year.
GCR: Jumping forward a few years, what was it like going to the 1992 IAAF World Cup in Havana, Cuba where you scored a Gold Medal on the 4x100 meter relay and a Bronze Medal in the 100 meters? Since so few people have had a chance to see Cuba with its closed society, what are your memories of racing there and did you get to see much of the country?
CS It was good being on the team there. As far as touring, we didn’t do any. I do remember the food was just okay. There also wasn’t enough food. When they gave us rice at a meal, they would only use an ice cream scoop. We did bring snacks with us which helped. The group of us in the four by 100-meter relay was not expected to do well or to win. But we came together as a foursome with Coach Williamson and were able to place each person on the leg where they needed to be for us to race our best. Also, Coach Williamson told us that we were the runners, we knew what to do and he took our suggestions. We somehow put the legs together the way they needed to be, and we were able to pull out a win in the relay.
GCR: Another race of yours interests me for more than one reason because I grew up Catholic. In the early 1990s in Italy, you won your race and received your award from Pope John Paul II. Whether someone is Christian, Jewish, Muslim or whatever religion, it must be cool to have the Pope give you your award.
CS That was a very great moment to receive my award from the Pope. I had no idea prior to that meet that the Pope would even be there at the competition. It was a great honor to be able to receive that award and I have pictures of that great moment.
GCR: Once I was running in the sport of track and field, I started reading Track and Field News. You were on the cover in October 1983 and December 1987 and ranked by Track and Field News as top ten in the world ten times at 100 meters and seven times at 200 meters. How was it to receive the recognition of your feats as the cover athlete and to be so consistently in the top ten in the world for a decade?
CS It was very good. I never believed this would have happened as I came from such a small-town in Bolton, Mississippi. I grew up in the country in a poor family and went out and worked hard and never knew at that time that so much could come from working hard. I didn’t see a whole lot when I was growing up in Mississippi. To be able to keep pushing myself and striving for the best and believing in myself and having people that believed in me was so helpful. I was ranked many times and a lot of athletes are good or great a couple of years and then they are gone and there is somebody else. I was able to last that long because of the type of training I did. I didn’t train like most sprinters. I did more over distance and mileage. I ran longer during the season than most sprinters. Even in April most sprinters would not do a two-mile run every day when I was still doing that. I was working on more of my endurance to help me be strong and last longer during the long season. I didn’t worry about my race results in the early part of the season. My goal was to be ready in the latter part of the season. That helped me to have the longevity and to go ten years in the sport. I am thankful, amazed and happy that it happened. It was enjoyable. If I lost, it was okay. I would get ready for the next meet, and I wouldn’t dwell on not winning and wouldn’t get mad. The race was over, and I focused on what was next because I enjoyed the sport. I enjoyed travelling around the world and took in the entire picture. I didn’t concentrate on needing to be first or second or third in each meet.
GCR: CHEMICAL SUBSTANCES IN THE SPORT OF TRACK AND FIELD You didn’t resort to cheating with chemical substances, and I didn’t either. I find it hard to get inside the mind of a cheater and understand how they can justify glory, stand on podiums and take money from sponsors when it isn’t them achieving through their natural ability and training. Calvin, can you understand how athletes can do this?
CS I feel that the reason people do it is because of the glory they receive from the sport and that it is financially rewarding. It’s all about them wanting to be looked at as the best and they want to get paid financially. They don’t worry about the fact that they are cheating. Instead of looking at it as cheating, some athletes justify it by saying they are just taking a supplement. But it is still cheating. I didn’t do it because cheating is cheating. It wouldn’t be me achieving, but the drugs that were bringing the results. Unfortunately, many people don’t care about that. It’s bad for other athletes that must deal with competitors who are cheating.
GCR: It's not only in track and field. Years ago I read ‘The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-ups, and Winning at All Costs’ by Tyler Hamilton. He said that his first year as a professional cyclist he was doing great. The second year he was wondering how all these guys who weren’t as good as him were beating him, and it was because they were all on drugs. The third year he had to either dope to keep up with them or get out of the sport. Do you think that some runners justify cheating by thinking that, since some others are cheating, they must also cheat to beat them?
CS I’m sure some of them did because they wanted to be competitive and the only way for them to be competitive was to get on drugs as well. I know there were some very good athletes who didn’t get on drugs and, because many competitors were on drugs, those clean athletes didn’t get as close to the top as they should have been by using their natural ability.
GCR: About ten years ago I read a summary of a study with World Class athletes from many sports who weren’t Gold Medal caliber, but who were very close. They were asked if they took a drug that wouldn’t show up in testing and it guaranteed a Gold Medal, but the drug would cause them to die within five years, would they still take the drug. Amazingly, half of the athletes said, ‘Yes.’ Isn’t it unbelievable that so many would put their life on the line for a Gold Medal?
CS Unfortunately, some athletes don’t think past the moment. They think about the present and will deal with whatever comes later and they just go with things.
GCR: How tough was it for you and other clean athletes when some runners failed tests or were strongly suspected of cheating due to huge gains in performance, and very little was done by the governing bodies or possibly to not negatively impact sponsors and network broadcasters’ ratings? How unfair was it that Olympic Medals were not always won by the best athletes due to some athletes pushing the envelope with chemical substances?
CS It was unfortunate and, a lot of athletes talked about it, but we knew there was nothing we could do. Everything was against us, including the governing body of track and field. If we spoke out, we could get banned from the sport. We were in a lose-lose situation. All we could do is go out, train harder and hope for the best.
GCR: In recent years the sport seems to be tightening up with tests like the biological passport where the testers may not know what an athlete is taking to cheat, but that there is an unexplained difference in blood makeup, so something is going on. Is the sport becoming more fair, are cheaters on the decline, or is this a battle where there must be constant and increased vigilance?
CS As far as the governing body in track in field, I feel that little has changed. The prominent athletes with the big names don’t have anything done about them even if it is known they are on drugs. It’s only when someone does something foolish that it is revealed that there is a positive test result. They may let things go with some athletes. Back then they knew that many of the athletes were on drugs, and they didn’t do anything. It seemed to be all about athletes with high-powered names who were on television frequently getting away with cheating. Some of the lesser athletes were caught and used as pawns so the governing bodies could say they were doing something about drugs. I suspect this has continued and many top athletes are still on drugs.
GCR: What is very disappointing is when, two or three years after an Olympics or World Championships, a Gold or Silver Medalist is disqualified, and the next placed athletes are moved up. The other athletes in the field race differently because of the cheaters and the outcome of a race amongst the non-cheaters may have been different. Since the races can’t be run again, isn’t this another sad situation in our sport?
CS It is very sad and disappointing but, unfortunately, some of the drug testing results come back weeks and months and years later. The event is over and there is nothing that can be done. It shows how unfair the sport can be in many ways.
GCR: RUNNING AS A YOUTH, IN HIGH SCHOOL, AND COLLEGE Let’s step back in time to when you first became interested in running. What sports did you play as a youth, how old were you when you started running competitively and were you one of the fastest kids right away?
CS I was one of the fastest kids in the neighborhood. I started off being good at running in P.E. class in football. My classmate would hand me the ball and I would run. The football coach and track coach saw me running and asked me to go out for the track team. This was at our high school which had seventh through twelfth grades. I was in seventh grade when I was first spotted. I had gone out for football, but it wasn’t for me because I wasn’t about to get hit all the time. The track coach, Roger Norman, asked me to come out for track. After a couple practices I was sore and had aches and pains and I quit. The next year, some of the upper classmen asked me to come out for track. I had a better understanding and went out in my eighth-grade year. My running started t take off from there.
GCR: Did you have a strong team and older teammates to set the stage for you and help you as you trained for the State Championships?
CS I won the one hundred meters at State four years in a row. I won the two hundred meters three years in a row. That was encouraging. I had a couple great teammates and we pushed each other. We didn’t have the best track team, but what helped me was that I ran anchor leg most of the time on the relays. Since we were rarely in the lead when I got the baton and I had to run people down, that increased my speed. I didn’t look at it as having to run fast and catch people and run them down. It was something that pushed my career in the direction it went. That was a factor that made me as good as I was.
GCR: How experienced and knowledgeable were your coaches and did you have good track and field facilities in your small town?
CS I tell track runners today that they have coaches who know more about the sport, the tracks are better, and they need to push themselves and believe n themselves. We didn’t have a track. It was basically dirt and grass we ran on. It went around the football field, and we called it a track. My coach didn’t know anything about track and field. He was a baseball coach, so he read and learned, and we figured things out. Lots of kids today have a better situation, but they aren’t appreciative. If kids today listened to their coaches who do know about the sport it could push their career along greatly. I didn’t have that at the school I went to.
GCR: You mentioned winning the one hundred meters four times and two hundred meters three times at State in high school. Were the races close when you were younger, and then did you win by larger margins as you progressed? Or were there some great rivals at State that pushed you?
CS A good number of those years the races were close, except for my senior year. My teammate, Lawrence, who was a year older than me was a good runner and went to Mississippi State. There were two twins who also played football, very big guys, who gave me a good run three of those years. They were very good, and I had to be very ready to race them.
GCR: Your senior year you went to the Golden West Meet in California and IPI International in Chicago. How nice was it to race the top guys from around the country and what do you recall from those competitions?
CS It was exciting running against the top athletes from other states. It was encouraging to be able to compete with them and to know that I had talent that I could take further. It was enjoyable to go to Sacramento and to the Midwest. I hadn’t left Mississippi except to go to Alabama and New Orleans. When I talked with other track runners, it boosted me to think that I could see the world.
GCR: When you finished up high school, you had to decide where to go to college. From reading your book, I know that UCLA, Mississippi State, Mississippi, Mississippi Valley State and Alabama were the mix. What did Coach Wayne Williams at Alabama do when recruiting you to tip the scales in his favor and that caused you to think Alabama was the best place for you?
CS What tipped the scale were a few things. I wanted to leave the state of Mississippi which sort of pushed out the other schools except for Alabama and UCLA. I liked both of those schools, but I thought I would never go home from UCLA. My mother didn’t have the financial means to fly me back home for holidays. I thought that, if I went to Alabama, I was out of Mississippi, was close to home, and could still go home for visits. Alabama also had a good track team. So, those were the key factors.
GCR: When I transitioned to college, I went from high school in Miami, Florida to Appalachian State in the North Carolina mountains and didn’t come home until Christmas. How was it when you went to Alabama and had responsibility for your schedule, classes, homework and athletics. Was it an easy transition or did you struggle somewhat?
CS It was not easy. I had picked a major that wasn’t suited for me. I wanted to go into Computer Science. I wasn’t the best at math and the computer courses were keeping me up studying late at night trying to figure out my assignments. Then I also had track practice. It came down to something having to give and I changed my major. I didn’t want to flunk out of school and not be able to run track because that is what I wanted to do. Track and Field was paying my way to be in school. I changed my major to Public Relations which made it much easier. I didn’t have to stay up all night figuring out how to run these different programs. There was a lot of hard work at track practice that was very different from in high school. I was good, but had a teammate named James Mallard, who now lives here in Tampa like I do, and he was the top guy in the sprints. There was one practice I remember, and James was running four two hundreds. I decided to jump in with him and, after the first one thought, ‘This is crazy! I can’t keep up with this guy.’ It taught me a lot. Watching James showed me that I still had quite a way to go and that it was going to take a lot of hard work. That helped me understand what I needed to do because James was killing me, and I couldn’t finish the workout with him. That made me realize I had to get my game plan together and work hard. I knew I couldn’t ease up. That was a motivator that helped me along to further my running career. That one practice with him was out of this world.
GCR: Running in the Southeast Conference for a strong school like Alabama makes the SEC Championships very important. Do have any memories from the SEC meets that stand out individually or on a relay that jump to the forefront of your mind?
CS We had some great times and when we won the SEC Championship as a team it was a great moment. I’m not sure what places I got, but I contributed some points, and it was great to be on a championship team. We were glued together so well as a team; we went for it and pulled it off which was very good.
GCR: I was a senior in high school and watched Mike Roberson win multiple events at the FHSAA Florida 4A State Track and Field Championships in 1975. What was it like your freshman year at NCAAs in the 100 meters with great athletes Stanley Floyd of Auburn winning in 10.10, Florida State’s Roberson and USC’s James Sanford both at 10.12, with you a few ticks back in fourth at 10.17?
CS It was a learning experience. I knew it was going to take some time and I had to work harder. But it was very exciting to be out there running as a college athlete and striving to get better. I knew it would take hard work on the fundamentals of racing to be able to improve. I didn’t let meets where I didn’t win or do well get me down or make me feel like giving up. My attitude was to work harder and get ready to do better the next time.
GCR: Another interesting race was your junior year at the 1982 NCAAs in Provo, Utah in the 200 meters where James Butler of Oklahoma State won by a couple meters in a windy 20.01, with you second at 20.20, followed very closely by Mike Miller of Tennessee in 20.21 and Eric Brown of UCLA in 20.22 seconds. What do you recall of when you were duking it out with Miller and Brown and it was two-hundredths of a second from Silver to Bronze to no medal?
CS What I remember the most about that meet is that I only had two false starts in my running career, one in high school and one at that meet in Provo, Utah. I had been working hard on my starts and was ready to do well in the one hundred meters. I felt that I was going to win. It was a windy day. I was in the blocks with my weight on my hands and it seemed that the wind just blew me on over when I went to the set position. There was the ‘no false start’ rule and I was out. That was very disappointing for me, and I remember that so well that I don’t recall details of the 200 meters.
GCR: The next year, in 1983, the NCAAs were held in Houston, and you were very close to winning both sprints. Your teammate, Emmit King, nipped you by a hundredth of a second in the 100 meters, 10.15 to 10.16, while Rutgers’ Elliott Quow clocked a 20.31 in the 200 meters, just a few ticks ahead of your second place 20.36 seconds. Can you take us back to that meet where you were in shape to win both events, but came up a little bit short?
CS I was in great shape, but I needed more speedwork to be ready to win. It’s all about timing for me because I was aiming for the end of the season. My speedwork was coming along, but not yet where it needed to be. As the season went along. My times went down, and I was faster and better. When I ran against Emmit, I knew he was going to be ready because I saw him every day when we worked on starts and did our workouts. I was happy for him when he had the victory that day. I knew that Elliott would make the 200 meters a tough race as well and I went for it, but he got me.
GCR: TRAINING There is a balance needed between explosiveness and acceleration when sprinting and relaxation to maintain form and not tighten up. Did you work to achieve this balance or was it years of consistent training, knowing your body and knowing where you were?
CS It is a combination of all that. In practice we would drive out of the blocks and then try to relax. Sometimes we would get it mixed up by both slowing down and relaxing. It was getting the right mixture of staying relaxed and not slowing down while going at the same pace without the hard effort. Then we would hit it again with a bit more effort. It was about getting that consistency when we were relaxing while we weren’t slowing down. The goal was to relax without slowing down.
GCR: You mentioned running more distance miles than many sprinters and working on starts with Emmit King. What were the primary workouts you executed regularly during a typical training week?
CS A typical day started with my warmup. I would go on a two or two-and-a-half mile run every day from Monday to Friday at a fast pace. Then I would do a hard workout. It could be 400 meters, 300 meters, 200 meters and 100 meters breakdowns one day. Then I might do four fast 300s the next day. I would have a day with several 150s and a day with a few 100s. I kept running the distances until April. I looked at it as being the endurance that would carry me throughout the whole season. I found that toward the end of the running seasons there were athletes who didn’t run well and said they weren’t in shape. I never had to say that I wasn’t in shape because I had done the work. I might have had to work on my speed but didn’t have to go back and get in shape.
GCR: It doesn’t matter if a runner does 100 meters, the mile, or the marathon – the math is that increased stride length and quicker cadence increases speed. What did you do to have improvements in strength, flexibility and knee lift to help you get from the starting blocks to the finish line faster?
CS I didn’t work on cadence and trying to hit a certain number of steps per second. I did things the old-fashioned way, got out there and just ran. I did do knee drills. I also worked on my arm motion and keeping my knees up.
GCR: How important were your strength training, flexibility exercises, core work and other time spent in the gym for your overall fitness and readiness to run your best?
CS I did light weights and didn’t lift anything heavy. I felt the light weights would help. My weak point that hurt me the most was that I did not like stretching. I was not very flexible, and I paid the price with injuries. My stretching was not up to par. I can admit that, and it was a part of many of my injuries.
GCR: Did you have any certain nutrition program based on reading or information from your coaches in terms of daily calories and grams of protein, vitamin and mineral supplements and eating whole foods such as ample fruits, vegetables and grains?
CS In my college years, I had no nutritional plan. I ate what I wanted and when I wanted to eat. After college, the only thing I did was that I would only drink soda a couple times on the weekend. I didn’t drink it during the week. Food didn’t bother me. I ran and stayed in shape, and I was okay. A lot of athletes can’t eat before they run but that didn’t bother me. I could eat and go out and practice and it didn’t bother me one bit. I looked at it as mind over matter. I didn’t let eating affect me if I could practice. I could eat and an hour or so later go out to practice and be okay.
GCR: WRAPUP AND FINAL THOUGHTS Who were some of your favorites competitors because you had to be at your best to beat them?
CS In the early years there was Mel Lattany and Emmit King. Then there was Carl Lewis, Linford Christie, Harvey Glance and Raymond Stewart. There were others and it changed from year to year as far as who I had to watch out for.
GCR: What do you do now for health and fitness in your sixties to stay at the top of your game?
CS I try to stay in shape with jogging and I try to eat healthier now. I limit salt in my food. I eat differently with more salads and less meat in my diet. I enjoy life and eat what I want, but not so much meat and foods with salt. My running is enjoyable because it is a leisurely run.
GCR: What advice do you give to children who are interested in pursuing athletic dreams and goals?
CS I tell any athletes that go out for a sport that they must believe in themselves, and they have to work hard. There are going to be many moments that won’t go the way they want them to go, but they can’t give up and have to keep on pushing themselves. If they have a coach or someone whom they believe in, then they have to follow what they are asked to do. Also, finding a good training partner helps. If you find someone and you can push each other, that can be a tremendous help for you. Don’t worry about it if your training partner beats you or celebrate when you beat them. Keep pushing each other because it will only make both of you better.
GCR: I mentioned earlier your book, ‘It Should Have Been Gold,’ which has many details of your childhood and the years when you were growing up, which are fascinating, in addition to your running exploits. If somebody wants to get a copy, where should they go?
CS They can go to Amazon to buy the book. If they want an autographed copy from me, they can hit me up on Facebook or e-mail me at Those are the three ways to get the book. If they request, I will autograph the book to them or a friend.
  Inside Stuff
Hobbies/Interests I go bike riding more than I used to because it gives my legs a rest from running. I watch movies. I often will go to the beach. I like to work around the house and hang out around friends. I try to enjoy life and don’t worry about trying to achieve
Favorite movies The main movies I have liked are horror movies. I like the older horror movies. The horror movies made today aren’t as good as those from years ago. When I talk about horror movies, more like the Freddy Krueger movies and ‘Halloween.’ I also watched the Alfred Hitchcock movies, but they were more suspenseful than horror
Favorite TV shows Back in the day, I liked ‘The Jeffersons’ and the cartoon, ‘The Jetsons.’ Now, I watch detective types of shows like ‘CSI’
Favorite music I listen to old-time Gospel music. I don’t like the new Gospel music that is influenced by Hip-Hop music that I don’t care for
Favorite books After I stopped teaching school, I had read so many books and assigned my students to read so many books, that I relax and don’t read many books anymore
First car My first car was a little Toyota hatchback
Current car I drive a Nissan
First jobs During the time I was young, we had pecan trees so we would pick pecans and sell them. After school, we would run to the pecan trees, pick up the pecans on the ground and sell those. That is one of the things we did way back then to earn some money. I worked one year in a summer program at Mynelle Gardens in Jackson, Mississippi. That was the only job I had back then
Family My family stills lives in Mississippi in the Jackson-Clinton-Bolton area. They are all doing well. I’m the only one who left the state. I had told them when I was younger that my plan was to leave. My wife, Melanie, and kids are doing fine. My son, Calvin, is living and working in this area. My daughter, Brittney, is living nearby and working as well
Pets As a kid, I had a dog, and his name was ‘Brownie.’ When I look at it today, I never wanted another dog after ‘Brownie.’ He left and never came back. Now I realize that he left to go die. I had one other pet that was a German Shepherd. After we left Alabama and went to Arizona, we left the dog with my in-laws because we were moving. We were going to get him later, but he got hit by a car. That was the end of pets for us
Favorite breakfast If I could just go to the Waffle House, that would be fine. I would have the waffles, eggs scrambled with bacon, grits and coffee – the All-American meal
Favorite meal Fried pork chops with some macaroni and cheese – that would do me well
Favorite beverages I drink more tea than coffee. I like fruit drinks like cranberry juice and grape juice. I don’t drink sodas that often. I like white wine
First running memory As I grew up down this road, there were only a few houses. At the end of the road was the main community and the community center. My friend and I would go up to the community center and play and didn’t go home until it was ‘dark dark.’ We had to get home and would walk fast and jog a bit until we got to the point where he had to go one direction and I had to keep going straight. We said ‘goodbye’ and ran home. It was scary going down the road where I lived at night. My house was no more than a hundred fifty meters to go, and his was a bit further. There were a lot of trees on the narrow road heading to his house. We would run and it got me going at an early age. We ran that way home a lot because we didn’t leave from the community center until it was very dark
Running heroes Steve Williams and Harvey Glance were two guys. Harvey was three years ahead of me, so I looked up to him. They were motivational guys because I knew, to get where I wanted to go, I had to go through them. I wanted to be as good as them. From talking to Harvey, we became good friends. He was an inspirational person who paved the way and gave me good insight into what needed to be done to be one of the best
Greatest running moments The top one is the 100-meter World Record. Second is the Olympic 4x100-meter relay World Record in 1984. Third is the World Championships 200-meter Gold Medal
Disappointing running moment In Seoul, Korea in the 1988 Olympics 100 meters because the outcome was influenced by drugged athletes
Childhood dreams As a kid, I wanted to get out of Mississippi and to not go back, so I achieved that portion of my dream. I wanted to do something with computers and didn’t as I had to change that in college. I also wanted to travel and was able to travel to many places and see the world
Funny memories Ben Johnson and I were in Japan, and we did this event that had swimming and some kind of cleaning that we had to do on our knees. In the swimming part, I’m not a swimmer and didn’t care for that part of the competition. The part when we were on our knees and cleaning was fun and exciting because I hadn’t done anything like that before. But it was weird. The swimming involved snorkeling in the water and Ben beat me to go to the finals. I was glad he beat me and went to the next round so I didn’t have to compete again. I was so happy to not have made it to the next round. I was not that comfortable in water
Embarrassing moment When I’m doing speeches, my family says that I will never shut up. They are thinking, ‘Stop! You’ve talked enough’
Favorite places to travel One of the good places that I truly like and enjoyed is Nice, France. I enjoyed visiting many places in Germany. I’m a country boy and there is a lot of greenery in places we went like Stuttgart. I like that aspect. I enjoyed Japan, which was very different. In the U.S., where I had the most fun running were places I went to all the time like Indianapolis