Going for gold: A sprinter’s chase for greatness

Going for gold: A sprinter’s chase for greatness

By Thomas Becker 

She's accomplished more in eight seconds than most student-athletes can only dream of. 

In just two seasons with UPEI's track and field program, 60-metre sprinter Bailey Smith is already a two-time champion, an MVP award winner, a two-time U SPORTS Championship participant, and rightfully belongs in the conversation as one of the greatest athletes to ever don the green and white. 

So how did the Panthers catch this flash of lightning? 

Track and field coach Colin MacAdam first spotted Smith by way of her brother, Spencer, who's also a gifted runner and the provincial record holder in the 400 metres.  

"My brother always encouraged me to compete," said the Mount Stewart, PE native. "Eventually he started training with Colin and I followed in his footsteps, and here we are 10 years later." 

When Smith joined MacAdam's training group at age 13, he remebered thinking highly of her raw, untapped speed, but never predicted what that'd amount to. 

"While she showed potential it's often difficult to predict how athletes will develop," MacAdam said. "I certainly didn't expect the results she has produced." 

RUNNING TOWARD SUCCESS

Over time, her potential grew while training at the provincial level and when it came time to choose a university, Smith decided to reunite with MacAdam and joined UPEI's track and field program in its inaugural season.

In her freshman year, she flew under the radar and quietly climbed the ranks, while clocking multiple personal bests. Things were going well and it could've been easy to coast on talent alone, but Smith wanted to be more. She wanted to be the best. 

"Bailey has a rare combination of physical gifts, work ethic, sports experience and a very strong desire to succeed," MacAdam said. "It allowed her to develop into a phenomenal athlete she is. The physical gifts were inherited but her attitude and work ethic developed at home."  

Smith's methodical approach to the sport more times than not has given her an edge over the competition. Each time she steps on those starting blocks it's all business.

"I have a checklist of what I need to do and then, right before I get into the blocks, I think positively before clearing my mind," said the 22-year-old.

That zen-like attitude paid off in February 2017 when she captured her first AUS championship, beating out Dalhousie's top sprinter Maya Reynolds, who'd become her greatest adversary in the years to come. 

"My coach knew I could win, which gave me some confidence," Smith said. "I wanted to represent the university and the program well and I didn't want to let myself down." 

"After winning the race, it took a while for it to sink in. I had a lot of support and it was an overwhelmingly positive experience." 

After taking home the title, Smith was invited to compete on the national stage. With so much talent around her, the usually calm Smith remembered feeling anxious before the races. She wound up finishing a spot short of qualifyig for the A Final – the fastest heat. 

"It was really hard on me, I felt defeated."

With her confidence shaken, she vowed to come back stronger. 

PROVING DOUBTERS WRONG

That fish out of water moment led people to believe that maybe her championship was a fluke, that maybe she caught her peers on a bad day.

"I recall people saying that Bailey lacked the top end speed and that she didn't have the power needed for a great start," MacAdam said. "She has proved and continues to prove the doubters wrong."

Despite competing in a sport that literally ends in seconds, Smith became a student of the craft. She was willing to do whatever it took to shave fractions of a second off her time – whether it was adjusting her knee drives or something as small as moving her head position. 

MacAdam has guided Smith's running career for more than 10 years and is still impressed with her evolving skillset. 

"The perfect race has many different parts and each of these parts must be practised perfectly over and over again," he said. "Bailey is determined enough to practise the details until they are perfect. She's also determined enough to lift weights, pay attention to nutrition and develop the mindset that allows her to succeed in pressure situations." 

Heading into her second consecutive championship run, Smith was overlooked in favour of the aforementioned Reynolds. But the competitive fire inside her motivated her to pull off another "upset."

"After winning the first year, I knew I could beat my competition, but I knew she had gotten better too," Smith said. "It fueled me. I wanted to win again and defend my title."

With a time of 7.63 seconds, Smith left Reynolds in her trail once again to claim her second straight title. She'd later cap off a memorable 2018 by earning a spot in the A Finals at nationals, while also being named UPEI's Female Athlete of the Year.

GOING FOR THE THREE-PEAT

Now, after years of building up her sprinting resume, Smith heads into this weekend's AUS Championship as the favourite, as she looks to take UPEI through uncharted waters. If all goes as planned, she would be the first UPEI athlete (or team) to win three consecutive titles. 

"For me to win the AUS for a third time would be a truly great accomplishment," Smith said. "It's really important to me that track gets recognized. I want to help the program grow each year and produce even more great athletes."

What's more, Smith already earned a spot at the U SPORTS Championships (in March) after crushing the 7.57 standard with a personal best of 7.48 seconds at a meet at Saint Mary's University earlier this year. 

As it stands now, Smith is ranked second in the country and has a legitimate shot at vying for the No. 1 spot, especially considering she's only 0.01 seconds behind Guelph's Shyvonne Roxborough. 

"Becoming the top U SPORTS sprinter will mean running the perfect race when it counts the most," MacAdam said. "Bailey has a history of doing well under pressure, so I'm confident."

With all the hype surrounding her, Smith's greatest source of pride is becoming a pioneer of UPEI track and field and helping them build a reputation as a school and program that can produce top-tier talent.

"Simply put, it's a great honor. It means a lot to be able to compete for the university doing the sport I love. P.E.I. is a small island with a lot of talent, and I hope we can draw more athletes here."