Westwood HS hurdler chasing state record, Olympic dream

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Westwood hurdler James Smith is closing in on the state record for 300 meter hurdles. Westwood hurdler James Smith is closing in on the state record for 300 meter hurdles.

Success is a process. Westwood hurdler James Smith has worked his way into being the best hurdler in Arizona. Just a junior, Smith isn’t going to stop now.

"Just knowing there's other people out there to beat me [keeps me focused]," Smith said during Monday's track practice at Westwood. "I can't ease up and think I'm the best and stop working.  I want to stay the best. I got to work hard every week."

Smith is smashing records, setting one at each meet. He made headlines last weekend at the esteemed Chandler Rotary Invitational, running the 300-meter hurdles in 36.58.

Smith has had to run his own race to post the fastest time on the West Coast.

"It's just really nice because James has always been really nice, diligent, hard-working, great kid, attitude," James Sr., James II's dad and coach. "He hasn't always been the top. There's always been one kid who's beat him. He just kept grinding. Right now he's looking at the kid in Florida saying, 'He's got me by .02. I want to drop that next week and be the top in the nation.'"

Thomas Burns from Miami Northwestern is the only high schooler in the country to run a faster time than James Smith this season. If Smith continues to improve, he could own the state record of 36.24 by next week. That record was set by former Brophy Prep and current Texas A&M star Bobby Grant in 2014. Grant broke former teammate Devon Allen’s 2013 record of 36.39

Smith has seen his times drop every race even though he clipped a hurdle earlier this season. He plans to run in the Sun Angel Invitational next week followed by the Arcadia Invitational in California.

"I'm so close," he said. "I just got to execute my race. I'm pretty sure at Arcadia I'm going to get it."

Smith has broken the meet record at every race he’s entered in 2018. 

"[In] 2020, I want to make the Olympic team; that's my goal," he said. "I just want to make the national team. After college, I want to run professionally."

Colleges have started blowing up his phone.

He’s headed to an official visit at Arizona State University this weekend, with Arizona, UCLA, Oklahoma State, LSU and Oregon also interested. Luckily, he’s got his coach/dad there to help guide his path.

"It’s nice; he’s there at all my meets," said Smith, who jokes about his dad’s giant afro during his days at Maryvale High and Glendale Community College.  "He’s either starting the gun or at the finish line. He’s my No. 1 fan."

"For me, it’s being able to put into him what  I didn’t have," James Sr. said. "It’s OK if he’s taller than me. I won’t say he’s better looking than me. If he’s the same as me, I didn’t make it. I want my son to make it."

Next up is the state record, then a college choice, and then maybe a chance to run for Olympic gold.

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