MINNEAPOLIS — Amanda Smock already knew full-well that her dream of making the Olympic team was secured.
But, on a cool day in a tent behind the stands at historic Hayward Field on the campus of the University of Oregon, the realization of wearing the colors of the United States and representing her country was driven home. It was the day the former North Dakota State University standout was fitted for her uniform and ring, symbolizing her lofty status as one of the world's best at her craft.
She becomes the fifth former Bison athlete to compete in the Olympic games. She joins sprinter Tamara Wigley-Brudy (1996/Atlanta, 4x400 meter relay for Saint Kitts and Nevis); Greco-Roman wrestlers Brad Rheingans (1976/Montreal, heavyweight, 4th, USA) and John Morgan (1988/Seoul, middleweight, seventh, USA), and volleyball player Janet Cobbs (1992/Barcelona, bronze medalist, USA). Rheingans also made the 1980 Olympic team, but did not compete as the U.S. boycotted the Games in Moscow.
Former NDSU wrestling graduate assistant Jeff Blatnick won the 1984 Olympic gold medal in the Greco-Roman wrestling heavyweight division. His reaction after winning the gold medal remains of the most played images in Olympic history.
"The whole day was so incredible," said Smock, who will represent the U.S. when the Olympic Games get under way July 27 with the opening ceremonies in London. She will compete in the triple jump and will begin her journey for Olympic gold on Aug. 3 after winning the event at the U.S. Olympic Trials last month. She is the only American to qualify for the Olympics in the event.
Smock said she, along with a number of other newly-annointed Olympians, were given a power point presentation by former Olympians Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Dan O'Brien. The two Olympic icons shared their own experiences with the new generation of Olympians and told them ways to manage the excitement and expectations while on the grandest stage.
They also listened to the music that has become associated with the Olympics.
“To be able to associate myself with that song is amazing,” Smock said. “I am still relishing in the thought of it all ... I had to pinch myself several times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.”.
She wasn’t dreaming.
The dream had been secured the previous day when she soared 45-feet, eight 13/16-inches to surpass the rest of the field and earn her way to London.
Her winning jump was nearly eight inches better than her mark in the preliminary round that gave her the lead heading into the final day of competition.
“Having the lead gave me some confidence,” Smock said, “but, I also knew it was all a wash ... the finals are a new day and a new playing field.
Page 2 of 3 - “It was about 60 degrees and raining,” she added, “not conducsive to jumping. I just wanted to build on perfecting my jumps throughout the competition.
She had already clinched the top spot before her final jump and the ending was just a formality.
“I was so, so excited,” said the former Bison, who ran to the stands and waved and blew kisses to a group of about 25 family and friends who had made the trek to Tracktown to watch her journey unfold.
Smock said her winning jump is one of the top five jumps in her career.
Ukraine’s Olha Saladuha has the top mark in the world this season (49-2 5/32), nearly four feet better than Smock’s winning jump at the Trials.
It was Smock’s third appearance at the Olympic Trials. She competed as a Bison in 2004 and did not qualify for the finals and finished fifth in 2008 after entering the finals tied for fourth heading into the final round of competition only to come up short — something she did not do this time around.
Smock took part in the world championships last year in Daegu, South Korea and struggled at the meet.
“I did not do very well,” she recalled. “I had three awful jumps. I seemed to be rushing through my jumps.”
She did find a silver lining in the experience.
“It was good to be able to soak in the excitement and to compete against the best in the world,” she said. “It was an incredible learning experience and really helped prepare me for this season.”
A season which not even a Hollywood screenwriter would have a hard time developing.
Smock will turn 30 on the day of the opening ceremonies in London.
“I can’t think of a better way in the world to celebrate any birthday than to be a part of the opening ceremonies,” she said, “my husband is off the hook in getting me anything.”
The former Bison is expecting to fly to Europe next week to compete in meets in Sweden and Belgium leading up to the start of the Olympics later this month.
“I am just looking for a good performance,” Smock said of her approach to London, “ ... and let the chips fall where they may.”
Smock, a native of Melrose, Minn., was a late recruit to the track program at NDSU following her graduation from high school.
“Ryun (Godfrey) was a late hire after taking over from Jerry Gores as coach and NDSU never entered into the picture before that,” Smock explained. “But once I visited the campus I was attracted to the program and to (Godfrey’s) coaching style.”
So, after making her tour of schools in the now-defunct North Central Conference, including South Dakota, South Dakota State, St. Cloud State and Augustana, Smock, who also visited the University of Minnesota, decided to attend NDSU.
Page 3 of 3 - She helped the Bison to a pair of Division II national titles and won two individual national championships in the triple jump.
Smock also credited much of her development in her event to Brent Parmer, an assistant coach with the Bison during Smock’s time in the Red River Valley.
“It was an honor to coach an individual with her kind of work ethic,” said Parmer, who is now an assistant coach at Eastern Kentucky. “She was fun to coach and fun to work with. She made every practice a competition.”
Parmer said Smock’s bid for Olympic gold is a daunting one with Saladuha leading the field by a wide margin. But, he added, that just might be a benefit to the former Bison.
“She’s going to have to jump farther than she ever has before,” Parmer said, “but, I’ve learned never to tell her she can’t do something ... she will simply prove you wrong.
“I wouldn’t put anything past her,” Parmer added. “She is a very special athlete and a very special person.”
“The successes we had as a team and the success I had as an individual were all the result of Ryun’s and Brent’s approach to everything,” Smock said. “It was like adding fuel to the fire and they really made us believe that we could conquer the world if we wanted to.”
Smock is one step closer to doing just that.