Smith’s javelin feat still remembered in Jamaica
Today’s first day of competition at the 48th Carifta Games in the Cayman Islands marks the 40th anniversary of its oldest record, held by a Bermudian.
Back on April 20, 1979 in Jamaica, Sonya Smith threw the javelin 177ft, 11˝in, which has since been translated to 53.98 metres in the modern day use of metrics.
The throw still remains spectacular in any translation, especially for a 15-year-old competing in the under-20 division, which was the only age group at Carifta at that time.
“I was so excited to be in Jamaica, there was nothing but huge speakers all around the stadium playing Bob Marley and you could see the mountains,” Smith recalled.
“The stadium was full, the most I had seen at that age. On my second throw the crowd went ‘whoa’ and I wondered what the noise was about. I walked up to the line and saw that I had thrown 177 feet, 11˝ inches.
“I went behind the high jump pit and had a snowball in a bag to eat. I tried to throw again but was so excited that I stopped throwing even though I had six throws.
“The record came on my second throw. I threw one more after that and decided I didn’t need to throw any more.”
Smith, later to attend Abilene Christian University in Texas, surpassed her achievement five years later with a throw of 183ft 8in in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, at the NCAA National Championships.
“At Abilene, there is a street named after me, Smith Drive, because I was the first woman from that school to go to the Olympics,” said Smith, who is recognised on the Wall of Fame at the National Sports Centre in Bermuda.
Smith finished with 11 medals at Carifta, five gold in the javelin, four silver in shot put and two bronze medals, one in discus and one in shot put.
“All the medals were in the under-20s because at the time I was competing there was no under-17s,” she explained.
“This record in Carifta will never be broken, because of the dynamics of the javelin,” Smith said “Both are 600 grammes but the dynamics of the javelin has changed.”
On April 1, 1986, the men’s javelin (800 grammes, 1.76lb) was redesigned by the IAAF technical committee, who decided to change the rules for javelin design because of the increasingly frequent flat landings and the resulting discussions and protests when these attempts were declared valid or invalid by competition judges.
The world record had also reached a potentially dangerous level, 104.80 metres (343.8 ft) set by German Uwe Hohn. With throws exceeding 100 metres, it was becoming difficult to safely stage the competition within the confines of a stadium infield.
The javelin was redesigned so that the centre of gravity was moved four centimetres forward. In addition, the surface area in front of centre of gravity was reduced, while the surface area behind the centre of gravity was increased.
In 1999, the women’s javelin was similarly redesigned.
There are two under-20 Carifta records, one, the “old specifications” of the javelin up to 1998, which Smith holds, and the other the “new specs” from 1999, which Candesha Scott, of Grenada, with her throw of 51.13 in 2016 in Grenada.
“They told me ‘welcome home’ when I’m in [Jamaica], but in Bermuda some people don’t know who I am,” said Smith, who was a throwing coach for the Bermuda team at the 2013 Carifta Games in the Bahamas.
“Even when the Carifta Games were here in 2012 some people in the stands were saying, ‘what is she doing down there’, because they didn’t know who I was.
“Athletes from other countries, especially Jamaica, came to me and asked for my autograph, saying they just did a study on me in class, a quiz about javelin and who holds the record.”
Smith shared her Carifta experiences with the present team along with 17 other former Carifta athletes at a camp on Ports Island last weekend.
“The kids don’t know who we are and what we’ve done,” she said. “We don’t have throwers like we used to. I remember coaching a girl a few years back, teaching her to throw the shot put, and she was worried about how her hair looked instead of throwing!”
Javelin was Smith’s favourite of the three throwing events, while she had a best throw of 46 feet in the shot put.
In high school, Smith held 18 records, nine at Sandys Secondary in javelin, discus and shot, and nine at interschool sports in the three events in as many age groups. Tiara Derosa broke one of her junior records in the discus three years ago when she qualified for Carifta.
The 17-year-old Berkeley student’s throw of 45.02 at a Flyers Track Club meet shattered the national junior record set by Smith of 37.06, which had been standing since July 1981. She also beat Branwen Smith-King’s record from 1977
“Nowadays in middle school, the weight has changed,” Smith said. “I used to throw with an 8lb shot and now they throw with 6lbs.
“There are lots of records I still have and all my medals came when I was young.”
Bermuda topped the medals table with 31 medals, 14 gold, 12 silver and five bronze, one more medal than Jamaica who collected 30 medals.
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