OLYMPICS: For Carmelita Jeter, gold is all that’s missing from resume
Who else on Earth could welcome you to their website with these three simple words?
World’s fastest woman.
It’s easy for Carmelita Jeter to proclaim, considering she’s the second-fastest 100-meter performer of all time. She’s the reigning world champion. She won the U.S.Olympic trials.
Compelling arguments, to be sure.
Only one thing is missing: Olympic gold.
And to think when Jeter stepped into the starting block to begin that quest Friday, she got there almost by accident.
Growing up in Gardena, Jeter attended Trinity Lutheran School in Hawthorne and remembers taking trips with some of her classmates as they considered which high school to attend.
They made trips to schools like St. Bernard and Serra, but the last one they visited won her heart — Bishop Montgomery. She was ready to take her basketball skills to the Knights’ competitive program, but after her freshman season, she needed an outlet for her energy.
Her coach pointed her toward the track.
“When I went over to the track to stay in shape, it wasn’t my first love,” Jeter said. “I didn’t really have a goal when I went out for the track team. I went out for fun.
“Probably when I made it to CIF (finals) in my freshman year, I realized `Oh, I am actually good.”‘
Yeah, 11.7 seconds as a freshman isn’t bad. And when she arrived at Cal State Dominguez Hills, she became the school-record holder in the 100 and 200.
But she learned more than running. Constant hamstring issues kept her out of competition for the better part of two years. It probably kept her from being coach Warren Edmonson’s first NCAA champion.
“I definitely learned patience,” Jeter said by phone last week from Monaco, where she was training until it was time to report to London for the Olympics. “I would keep getting injured over and over again. I definitely want to say it brought me closer to Warren Edmonson.
“I had to believe I’d be OK for the next year. It brought me closer to my faith and I had to figure out why I kept getting held back.
“It was a series of misfortunes, but you’re never given more than you can take to see if you’re able to dig out of it. I never say `would have, could have,’ because I see where I am now.”
Actually, Jeter had to grow up with a degree of patience. She and her younger brother, Pooh — who went on to become a star basketball player at Serra, the University of Portland and played a stint with the Sacramento Kings — grew up having to politely, but continually, correct the pronunciation of their last name.
“I’m never rude when I have to correct them,” Jeter said. “Everyone thinks of (New York Yankee) Derek (Jeter). After I tell them, they correct it.
When I do correct somebody, I say `JET-er.”‘
Yes, as in Jetter.
As in she was about to jet into world prominence and become a somewhat polarizing figure.
Jeter began to climb up the world charts in the sprints but at the 2008 U.S. Olympic trials, she couldn’t get past the semifinals in the 100 and her sixth-place finish left her out of the picture in the 200.
“It was definitely disturbing not making the team after getting a (bronze) medal in the ’07 world championships,” Jeter said. “It opened my eyes that this is not a game, not a sport you play.
“It’s your job, a full-time job. I wasn’t hungry (in 2008). I didn’t work hard. I didn’t deserve to go. I learned a great lesson and it pushed me for four years to take this seriously, to take this as my full-time job. Making the team this year was a blessing and a joyful feeling.”
After missing the 2008 team, Jeter switched coaches from Larry Wade to John Smith, who had coached 2000 Olympic champion Maurice Greene and other top sprinters. Since then she has been the best 100 woman in the U.S. and among the two best (along with Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce) in the world.
In her new full-time job, Jeter ran herself into the record books in 2009.
At the IAAF World Athletics Final in Greece, she won the 100 in 10.67. A week later in a grand prix race in Shanghai, China, she won in 10.64 to become the second-fastest woman ever behind Florence Griffth-Joyner (1988).
“She didn’t have success early,” Smith said. “That’s made her very hungry.
“The lady will run through a brick wall for me.”
At the 2011 worlds she won the 100, finished second in the 200 and anchored the gold medal-winning U.S. 4 x 100 relay. A fierce worker in the weight room and on the track, no woman has been faster older than Jeter (32), who owns three of history’s 10 fastest times.
What should have been a joyous stretch has become the true test of her will. Jeter can outrun most of the world, but for decades now, no one can outrun the whispers, and Jeter generally declines to get caught up in the discussion of the sport’s struggle with performance-enhancing substances.
She has never tested positive.
“I’m 32 and clean,” she told Sports Illustrated recently. “That shocks people. But I get it all the time, and I pretty much accept it. But it’s hurtful, and I’d like to get credit for what I’ve done.”
She simply wants to focus on this Olympiad.
“One of my greatest accomplishments right now is making this Olympic team,” Jeter said from Monaco. “This is something no one can take from me.”
Jeter won the 100 in 10.92 at last month’s U.S. trials but has run 10.81 this year. She also qualified in the 200 and will again anchor the 4×100 squad.
She likely has the best shot at ending Jamaica’s 100 monopoly. Jamaica was so good in Beijing it won the gold (Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce) and not one, but two silvers, after Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson finished in a dead heat.
Jeter got off to a fine start Friday, running the day’s fastest qualifying time (10.83). She built a massive lead of about 10 feet by the halfway mark and won by nearly a half-second, the gold-colored soles of her neon green spikes reflecting the arena’s artificial lights.
The semifinals and final are today.
“If Carmelita runs the way she knows how to and stays within herself, she will win (the 100),” said Greene, who won gold in the 100 at the 2000 Olympics.
Jeter did hold off Jamaica’s five-time Olympic medalist Veronica Campbell-Brown to win the 100 at last year’s world championships, but she never lets herself get overconfident.
“Made me feel better about myself more than anything,” Jeter said. “But I wouldn’t say now I’m running with less stress. It’s a new year. This is a new ballgame. You can’t live off of last year. You have to be ready for right now.”
Jeter’s Olympic moment is here.
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