A championship personality to match

Everyone seemed to be a little anxious before Olivia Smith’s 800-meter race at the state meet in Columbus.

Everybody, that is, except Olivia Smith.

Maybe it was because she had no reason to be nervous. For the second-consecutive season, Smith won the 800.

The only thing more remarkable about the Calvert junior than her considerable athletic ability is her unflappably pleasant personality. I’ve interviewed her numerous times, and her demeanor always is the same. Smiling, and taking everything in stride.

Most athletes, before an event, tend to tense up or at least show some sign of nerves.

Not Olivia, though she said she had them.

“I kept thinking to myself, ‘It’s just another race,'” Smith said. “I didn’t want to get too caught up in the fact that I was a defending state champion, ’cause, it’s all in your head, really. I didn’t want to get too worked up about it, I just wanted to go run another 800.”

Other star athletes say it, but with Smith, you believe it. I asked her coach, Stewart Behm, if Smith was the least nervous person about her race.

“I would say without a doubt,” Behm said. “Without a doubt, both boys and girls side. She was Olivia.”

Behm said Smith has found a way to answer each challenge, and do it without drama.

“To me, it’s amazing how mature she is, and she knows how to handle these situations,” Behm said. “She doesn’t let the pressure get to her. She doesn’t let nerves get to her, she doesn’t let fans get to her. She focuses on what she has to do and she does it.”

There will be more attention next year, to be sure. People like, well, me, will be pushing the possibility of a three-peat for her senior year. It’s a story that likely will pick up traction as June 2014 gets closer.

But that’s in the future. It’s something Smith mentioned, but only briefly.

“It gives you some confidence after winning twice, for next season,” she said. “But I’m just here representing my school, my community, and I really owe it all to my coaches, my family and my teammates.”

Smith had a big contingent of people pulling for her. There was a big group about three quarters of the way up in the stands at Jesse Owens Stadium, most wearing white Calvert T-shirts who cheered her on, then started going nuts about the final 200 meters.

I should thank these people, because it’s hard to follow an 800 in the reporters bullpen in the infield. The group was my guide to the race’s eventual outcome.

Then there were her fellow Seneca athletes, like the boys 4×1/4×2 team.

“We were over at the 200, waiting for me to run the 200,” said Calvert sprinter Shane Boehler, who competed in four events himself Saturday. “We saw Olivia, and we saw (another runner) pull up next to her. We were just praying that she won… when Olivia crossed the line, we went crazy.”

It seemed like everyone with Calvert got caught up in the emotion, except Smith herself.

Then again …

“She hides her nerves pretty well,” said Marisa Horn, Smith’s teammate on the state-qualifying 4×800 and 4×400 relays, and also her cousin. “But she said she felt like she got a big weight lifted off her shoulders, and I’m just glad for her, to go out there and win it two times in a row. It’s pretty amazing.”

It is. And with Smith, it likely will continue to be.