|Birth name||Willie James Smith III|
|Born|| February 28, 1956 |
Rochester, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||November 7, 2020 64)(aged|
|Height||5 ft 8 in (1.73 m)|
|Weight||161 lb (73 kg)|
|College team||Auburn Tigers|
|Achievements and titles|
|Personal best(s)||400m - 44.73 s (1978)|
Willie James Smith III (February 28, 1956 – November 7, 2020 ) was an American athlete who was the national champion 400 metres runner in 1979-80, and a gold medal winner at the 1984 Olympics in the 4 × 400 m relay.
Smith attended Auburn University, where he was a successful athlete for the Auburn Tigers.Smith arrived at Auburn as a nationally renowned high-school sprinter from his time at Uniondale High School, New York. Track and Field News named him High School Athlete of the Year in 1974.
Smith started his college career as a sprinter. He then switched to the longer distance of 400 m., prompted by injuries incurred in shorter sprints, and by the emergence of competition from up-and-coming sprinters like Harvey Glance.Despite this, Smith was a successful enough 100 m. sprinter to be an alternate for the United States 4 × 100 m. relay team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Having finished fifth in the 100 m. final at the United States Olympic Trials, he was placed in the third qualifying position up to 80 m. of the race. At his new distance of 400 m., Smith quickly achieved national success, winning two NCAA titles at the distance.
Internationally, Smith won a silver medal at the 1977 World Student Games at 400 m.
When he graduated in 1978, Smith received his university's top honor of Athlete of the Year.
After graduation, Smith continued as an athlete. He was twice United States National Champion at 400m., in 1979 and 1980.His reward in 1979 was a place on the American team for the Pan American Games at 400 m. Here he won bronze. Smith, as American No. 1 was expected to be the main rival to the great Cuban athlete Alberto Juantorena. In the end, a foot injury and a problem with a shoe, plus an inspired piece of running by his American colleague Tony Darden, meant it was Darden and not him who beat Juantorena into second.
Smith finished second in the 400 m. final at the United States Olympic Trials for the 1980 Olympics. He was unable to compete due to the United States boycott of those games. A defeat of the Olympic champion Viktor Markin was little consolation.Years later, he did receive one of 461 Congressional Gold Medals created especially for the spurned athletes.
Smith was also a member of winning United States 4 × 400 m. relay teams in the 1979 and 1981 IAAF Athletics World Cups.
In 1983, he competed at the inaugural IAAF Athletics World Championships in the American 4 × 400 m. relay team. However, he collided with a competing Soviet Union runner on the third leg, falling, leaving the American final leg runner, the great 400 m. hurdler Ed Moses, with no chance of victory despite his valiant but vain effort to catch the leaders - the team eventually finished down the field.Smith said "It was a stupid mistake. I almost quit the sport."
In 1984, Smith finished sixth in the 400 m. final at the United States Olympic Trials for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics thus qualifying to be part of the 4 × 400 m. relay squad for those games.The United States 4 × 400 m. relay team came first and Smith received an Olympic gold medal by virtue of having run a leg for the team in a qualifying heat and the semi-final.
In 1988, he attempted again to qualify for the Olympics, as a 32-year-old. He failed, finishing 8th in a semi-final of the 400 m. trial at the United States Olympic Trials.He was reported as working then full-time as a television news director. Smith himself at the time wondered about "what makes him run" and considered the attempt at making the Olympic team like "a bad habit. It gets in your blood".
In 1996, Smith attempted to compete at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics as a 40-year-old. His struggle was chronicled in the New York Times.He unfortunately did not qualify, even with advice from the elder statesmen of track coaching Brooks Johnson and Mel Rosen (his old college coach). He, however, did set a master's record.
Since then he has created and worked at sporting camps for young people.
In 1997, Smith was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2000, he was honored as one of 6 new stars in Auburn's Tiger Trail, Auburn University's replica of Hollywood's walk of fame.
Track and Field News ranked Smith among the best 400 m runners in the US and the world from 1977 to 1985.
|Year||World rank||US rank|
Smith was a very successful competitor at 400 metres at the USA National Track and Field Championships between 1979 and 1983:
Alberto Juantorena is a Cuban former runner. He is the only athlete to win both the 400 and 800 m Olympic titles, which he achieved in 1976. He was ranked as world's best runner in the 400 m in 1974 and 1976–1978, and in the 800 m in 1976–77, and was chosen as the Track & Field News Athlete of the Year in 1976 and 1977.
Allyson Michelle Felix is an American track and field sprinter. From 2003 to 2013, Felix specialized in the 200 meters and gradually shifted to the 400 meters later in her career. Her professional-level racing repertoire spans the 100 meters, 200 meters, 400 meters, 4x100 meter relay, and 4x400 meter relay. At 200 meters, she is the 2012 Olympic champion, a 3-time World champion (2005–2009), and 2-time Olympic silver medalist. At 400 meters, she is the 2015 World champion, 2011 World silver medalist, 2016 Olympic silver medalist, and 2017 World bronze medalist.
Harvey Edward Glance is a former American sprint runner. He won gold medal in 4 × 100 m relay at the 1976 Olympics, 1987 World Championships, and 1979 and 1987 Pan American Games.
Steven Earl Riddick is an American athlete and winner of the gold medal in 4×100 meter relay at the 1976 Summer Olympics.
Antonio McKay Sr. is a former track and field athlete who specialized in the 400 meters.
Andrew Rock is an American sprinter who specializes in the 400 meter dash.
Sanjay Claude Ayre is a retired world-class Jamaican sprinter who specialized in the 400 meters. Ayre won a silver medal at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games. Ayre is a 2004 IAAF World Indoor Championship Gold medalist and a three-time World Outdoor Championship medalist.
James Sanford is a retired track and field sprinter from the United States.
James Walker is a former American hurdler. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, he attended Auburn University from 1976-1980. Walker was one of "The Fabulous Four" along with teammates Harvey Glance, Willie Smith, and Tony Easley; together they set more school and conference records than any other foursome in the history of the Southeastern Conference. Walker qualified for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team but did not compete due to the 1980 Summer Olympics boycott. He did however receive one of 461 Congressional Gold Medals created especially for the spurned athletes.
Stanley Floyd is a retired track and field sprinter from the United States. He was a 1979 graduate of Dougherty High School in Albany, Georgia. In 1980, he was considered one of the favorites for the 100m title but was denied his chance due to the United States boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics.
Barton Williams is an American former hurdler. He attended California Polytechnic State University from 1975–1979. Williams is one of Cal Poly's all-time greatest track and field athletes.
Clifford 'Cliff' Wiley is a former American track and field athlete, who competed in the sprints events during his career. He is best known for winning the men's 400 metres event at the 1981 Athletics World Cup in Rome and the 1983 Pan American Games in Caracas.
Tony Darden is an American former track and field athlete, who competed in the sprints events during his career. He is best known for winning the men's 400-meter dash at the 1979 Pan American Games in San Juan.
Jeshua Anderson is a retired American sprinter, who specializes in the 400 meter hurdles. He is a 3 time NCAA champion in the 400m hurdles and was the second freshman from Washington State University to ever win the NCAA title. In 2008 Anderson was 400 meter hurdles Junior World Champion and holds the second fastest high school time recorded in the 300m hurdles. He was born and raised in Woodland Hills, California and attended Taft High School. After winning the 2011 Outdoor Championships, Anderson had the competed for team USA at the world championships. He also participated in the 2016 Olympic trials in which he finished as a finalist.
William Ernest Green was an American sprinter.
Charles Douglas Brown is a retired American track and field athlete, whose specialty was the Steeplechase.
Kendall Baisden is an American track and field sprinter who specializes in the 400-meter dash. She holds a personal record of 50.46 seconds for the distance, set in 2014.
James Butler is an American former track and field sprinter who specialized in the 200-meter dash. He was an NCAA champion and winner at the Liberty Bell Classic Olympic boycott event. He represented the United States at the 1987 IAAF World Indoor Championships and placed fifth. He set a 200 m best of 20.23 seconds in 1982.
Gwen Gardner is an American female track and field sprinter who specialized in the 400-meter dash. An African-American, she grew up in Los Angeles, California. Collegiately she competed for the UNLV Rebels and was among their best sprinters in the mid-1980s.
Fredrick Lee Kerley is an American track and field sprinter known primarily for competing in the 400 meters distance. He has earned several medals at the World Championships in the 400 m and 4 × 400 m relay including an individual bronze and a relay gold at the 2019 edition. Kerley's personal best time of 43.64 seconds makes him the eighth fastest man in history over 400 m.
| Track & Field News High School Boys Athlete of the Year|