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Kansas Relays: Third place bitter for 'Batman,' sweet for Christian Smith
After talking with 2008 Olympians Bershawn 'Batman' Jackson and Christian Smith at the Kansas Relays, I came away intrigued by a similarity.
They both defined themselves by a third-place finish. But their stories couldn't be much more different.
Let's start with Christian Smith, a native of Garfield, Kansas — a town of about 200 between Great Bend and Dodge City.
In last year's Olympic Trials, Smith — considered an underdog a best — came into the 800-meter finals needing a top-three finish and a sub-1:46.00 time to qualify for the Olympics.
What happened next has been called one of the most dramatic moments in U.S. Olympic Trials history.
Coming down the stretch, he was neck-and-neck for third. And that's when he realized a lean wasn't going to be enough.
So Smith, at the finish line, went into a head-first dive.
He ended up beating 2004 Olympian Khadevis Robinson by six-hundredths of a second to earn a spot in Beijing.
"The actual moment, I didn't feel anything at all," Smith said. "I can remember on the victory lap, my hand started hurting, so I started clapping with the other hand. The moment — too much adrenaline. I didn't even notice."
The all-out effort didn't come without consequences.
Smith bruised a rib, which made it painful for him to run for the next few weeks because it hurt to breathe in deep. His hand was scraped. His shoulder looked the worst of all.
It was all worth it, though. For the rest of his life, he will be known as an Olympian.
"I wouldn't be scared to do it again," Smith said, "if it was in the same situation."
As for Jackson, third place was a disappointment.
In the 2008 Olympics, Jackson came in as one of the favorites. Though he was nervous in his first-round run ("All you can see is cameras flashing," he said), he jogged the last 100 meters, looking around to see if anyone was close to him. No one was.
In the semifinals, he ran a 48-second race even after slowing down at the end.
"I just knew I had it in the finals," Jackson said.
But he didn't.
He started slow and didn't execute the pre-race plan. Halfway through, Angelo Taylor was first at 20.8 seconds.
Jackson recorded a 22.4, nearly two seconds back.
"I lost the race when it first started," Jackson said. "I had to fight to catch up."
Jackson did battle back, managing a third-place finish with a time of 48.06 to complete an American sweep of the medals.
"There's only three medals in the world, and I've got one of them," Jackson said.
That still doesn't mean that one race haunts him to this day.
He'll have another shot in 2012, and he already knows what he's going to do differently.
"Go out and give it my all, no matter what the hell happens," Jackson said. "I had too much left over. ... I was supposed to been locked up, I was supposed to have been tired, I was supposed to have been exhausted, I was supposed to have been out of my mind, mouth dry, head hurting. I wasn't that way. I left behind too much.
"I was supposed to have left everything on the track in that one moment, and I waited four years just to blow it.
"So next time, it's going to be a lot different."
Jackson gave the Bronze medal to his grandma. It sits in her living room next to her television, and even he isn't allowed to touch it.
Jackson said she had always one of his biggest supporters.
"All she knows is, 'Don't look back,' and 'Run fast.'" Jackson said.
Jackson's doing just fine on the running fast part.
Now, he's just got to work on not looking back.