Smith sprints all the way to Fame

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

What could he say?

How could Ricardo Smith articulate to describe his years of track and field, accomplishments that had just won him induction into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame? How to verbally depict the career that gave him a chance to sprint alongside with some of the biggest names in the sports history? What words would he use?

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Maybe he’d talk about dedication, which allowed him to first explode onto the Virginia high school track scene as a student at Southampton, making All-State in 100- and 200-meter sprinting and the long jump, and send him to Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C. Perhaps he’d mention teamwork, such as when he and three fellow Livingstone teammates set a 400-meter relay world record in 1977. Or maybe he’d speak of disappointment, which occurred when the United States boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics kept him from the world spotlight, and a shot at a gold medal.

Who could sum up such a list of accomplishments? Not Smith – he knew better.

&uot;Words cannot describe it,&uot; he said. &uot;I had a speech all prepared, but I never used it. It was all from the heart. The rush I had was like the one I got when I got into the box before a race.&uot;

His racing started in the early 1970s, when he ran past the Peanut District with his sprinting skills, as well as making All-Region in basketball and All-District in football. But it wasn’t until he received some special instruction from coach Larry Logan, and Smith’s mother Virginia, that he decided to take the next step toward competition.

&uot;I wasn’t going to go to college at all,&uot; he said. &uot;I had a good job in my family’s business at a post office, but my mother told me that I wasn’t going to be the first in my family to not go to college.&uot; Logan convinced Smith to attend his own alma mater at Livingstone, and the young runner put his track shoes back on. He didn’t stop until he’d racked up three Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Most Outstanding Performer achievements, as well as three All-American honors.

As a sophomore in 1976, Smith headed to Eugene, Ore. for his first shot at Olympic competition in 100- and 200-meter sprinting. He finished sixth – one spot too low for the Games. Over the next few years, Smith was part of the aforementioned world-record squad, ran under Olympic coach Dr. Leroy Walker, and met track legend Jessie Owens at the 1977

Drake Relays in California. &uot;Meeting all those people that I thought I would never meet was one of the biggest thrills of my life,&uot; he said.

Smith graduated from Livingstone in 1978 with a degree in math and physical education and went to work for a nearby car dealership. &uot;That was the only place I could work and still continue to run.&uot;

He did so, making another trip to Eugene for the 1980 Olympic trials, making the squad as an alternate. But Smith didn’t get to head to Russia to jog against the world’s best – President Jimmy Carter decided to boycott the Games to protest Russia’s December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.

&uot;After all the hard work we’d gone through, that political stuff wasn’t right,&uot; he said. &uot;To let politics become a part of athletics was totally wrong.&uot; Along with the rest of the track team, Smith refused an invitation to visit the White House as a sort of compensation.

In 1981, Smith broke a kneecap while training, effectively ending his active career. He helped out as an assistant coach at Southampton, but his heart wasn’t in it. &uot;I wanted to coach, but I decided it wasn’t me,&uot; he said. &uot;If a guy wouldn’t give me what I had given to the sport, it was frustrating.&uot;

He continued his work in the auto sales world, coming to Suffolk’s Mike Duman Auto Sales in 1994 (he now manages the Customer Development Center at Duman’s Godwin Blvd. location).

Over the past few years, Smith’s nephew Randall Evans, a graduate of Virginia Beach’s Kempsville High School, made All-CIAA as a sprinter, and headed south to St. Augustine. In April, Evans called his uncle and told him that he’d been nominated for the Sports Hall of Fame. The next month, the Hall himself contacted Smith – he was to be an official member of the Class of 2004, joining older members such as NASCAR legend Richard Petty, NCAA coach Dean Smith, golfer Arnold Palmer and former Los Angeles Laker James Worthy.

&uot;I had no idea it would ever transpire,&uot; he said. &uot;To even be nominated was a great feeling.&uot; Last weekend, he went down to the Hall to accept his induction – and attempt to let the audience know exactly how he felt about his friends, his family, and his career.

He stepped forward to the podium. Then Smith told the crowd about all those that he been with him every step of the way, every time he shot out of the blocks or launched himself down the sandy long jump path.

&uot;I thanked my parents for all the times they put up with me,&uot; he said. &uot;They helped get me to meets, and bought things with money they didn’t have.&uot; He thanked his teammates for helping him to be among the planet’s best, and his coaches for showing him how to start on the path there.

&uot;It wasn’t just my night or my time,&uot; he said, &uot;it was for everyone. You read about being one of the world’s best, but you never really think it’ll be you. There’s no one word to describe it.&uot;