Susan Smith's memories


SUSAN SMITH, Ireland's representative in the 400 metres hurdles in Atlanta, didn't win a medal didn't even get to the finals. Yet, in the context of setting down markers, her's was one of the most impressive of all Irish performances on the track.

Not only did she concede all the advantages in experience to her rivals in reaching the semi-finals, but, once there, she established a national record of 54.93 seconds.

More than that, she did it with a badly gashed knee, after hitting a hurdle hard in her first race, which required urgent treatment before coming back on track.

"This was the year I got back my self-belief after two seasons in which I was nearly always in pain with a foot injury," she said. "I eventually got it sorted out and it showed in my performances.

"The first big plus of the year was getting the chance to go to South Africa last February. That got me into shape for the year, and I ran (a national record) 56.49 in Cape Town.

"Making the team for Atlanta was a big achievement for me and getting to the semifinals was an even bigger one. That was the first time I'd competed at that level, and I like to think that I learned enough to be able to improve my performances if I get another chance.

"Deon Hemmings (the new champion) told me that she was at the same stage as I am now after Barcelona. That was encouraging, and I hope I'll be able to get close to that kind of improvement over the next four years.

Smith, a graduate of Brown University who now works in Dublin with Coopers and Lybrand, plans to return to South Africa next month to prepare for the world championships in Athens next August.

"I wasn't at the pool to see Michelle Smith's first win, but I was there cheering her on with the rest of the Irish team, around a television set in the Olympic village.

"And I could have cried for Sonia O'Sullivan.

"But that was all part of the Olympic experience, and now that I've been introduced to it, I'd like to have more."