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Smith finally feels like one of the family

Tyrone Smith is clueless about Cup Match, does not care for codfish breakfast and would not be seen dead in a pair of Bermuda shorts.

More “all-American kid” than “backatawn bie”, Smith admits he does not share the same reference points of island life with his team-mates in Rio.

He is also aware his absolute self-belief is often misinterpreted as arrogance by the Bermudian public, some of whom still struggle to accept him as one of their own.

Smith initially felt like an outsider when he returned home, but insists he has never felt more accepted in his skin as both Bermudian and American.

“At first some of the athletes innocently poked fun at my lack of accent and knowledge of Bermuda's customs and traditions, or the fact I didn't even know who my Cup Match team is,” Smith said.

“I remember coming back to Bermy after the Beijing Olympics [in 2008] to attend the National Sports Awards ceremony and being questioned by immigration about what I was there for.

“When I explained I was an athlete and home for the awards the officer asked, “Why haven't I heard of you then?”

Smith was born in Bermuda but moved to the United States when he was five years old, where he was raised in the suburb of North Chicago, Illinois.

He describes himself as Chicagoan to the bone and has opted for a skateboard as his preferred mode of transport through the largest athletes village in history — another nod to his American upbringing.

That is not to say Smith is not proud of his Bermudian heritage.

And nothing would thrill him and his Bermudian and American family members more than winning an Olympic medal for the island.

“Over the years I've felt more and more accepted and loved [by Bermuda],” he said.

“My family on 'the Rock' is always standing up for me and cheering me on. I rediscovered my love of fish sandwiches and cassava pie, and after a couple days home I can even fool quite a few with my Bermy accent.

“The last time I came home the immigration officer knew my name and asked how jumping was going before he opened my passport.

“However, some things haven't changed and I still can't tell you anything about cricket!”

Smith was bestowed with the honour of carrying Bermuda's flag during the Parade of Nations at the Maracanã Stadium at his third and likely final Olympics.

There was just one problem: Smith's uniform had not arrived because of a weather-delayed flight from Miami and he had to borrow a blue blazer from another athlete and red shorts from a Bermudian Olympic official.

Smith's beaming smile disguised any discomfort he may have felt wearing a pair of shorts two sizes too big.

He even showed admirable foresight by smuggling in a collapsible chair to rest his legs during the four-hour opening ceremony.

“Carrying the flag was an amazing honour and one that I did not expect,” Smith said.

“In fact, when I first read the e-mail announcing the flag bearer I skimmed through and didn't realise until reading it again a couple of hours later that I was the bearer.”

Although Smith still believes in the magic of the Games, he admits his approach to the competition is more workmanlike than in previous years.

“People ask me whether I'm excited and I guess I don't respond how they expect me to,” Smith said.

“I'm not like, 'I can't wait!' and part of that is because this is my third Olympics and I'm here to get a job done.

“I've already been like, “Oh my God, I'm going to the Olympics'. I've been there and now I want to do my job and do it well.”

It has been six years since Smith jumped 8.22 metres, his personal best, to win gold at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Puerto Rico, and he will likely need to go beyond that distance to be in with a medal chance.

He posted a season-best jump of 8.18 at the Birmingham Diamond League in England in June — the third-longest distance he has jumped — to qualify for Rio and finish one centimetre ahead of Britain's Greg Rutherford, the Olympic champion.

However, with the fiercely competitive field also including big-jumping United States pair Jeff Henderson and Michael Hartfield, Smith will to need to deliver something truly special to force his way onto the podium.

“I'm not trying to sound arrogant, and I know some people in Bermuda think I am, but I believe I can be in the mix,” said the Houston-based athlete.

“If I do what I'm capable of doing there's a very real chance I can bring this medal home.

“This year is going to be really strong and we've got a few guys who have gone well over 8.50 and 8.40 like Henderson, Hartfield and Fabrice Lapierre [of Australia]. I don't think Rutherford will have a sniff at the podium this time.”

Smith's journey as a Bermudian athlete will come full circle in Rio.

He debuted for the island in the “Magnificent City” at the Pan American Games in 2007 at the Olympic Stadium, where he competes in today's qualifying round.

“I'm going to need to have two good days in a row to even put myself in with a fighting chance,” he added.

“It could be quite stressful, but I have a calm focus that I don't think I've had before, which is a cool feeling.”

Should Smith return to Bermuda with a medal packed inside his luggage, he will experience no more delays by immigration; indeed, he can be assured of a hero's homecoming.

Flying the flag: Smith led Bermuda into stadium during the opening ceremony in Rio (Photograph by Michael Sohn/AP)

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Published August 12, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated August 12, 2016 at 1:26 am)

Smith finally feels like one of the family

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