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Susan Smith

Margaret Aylward Dr Edward Barron Philip Barron Denis Cashman Raymond Chandler Paddy Coad Patrick Comerford Donncha Ruadh Val Doonican Sean Dunne Frank Edwards Alfie Hale John M Hearne William Hobson Dr Thomas Hussey Charles Kean John Keane Edmund Leamy D. P. Moran Gen Dick Mulcahy James Nash Peter O'Connor Jas Louis O'Donnell Pádraig Ó Fainín Gilbert O'Sullivan John Redmond Edmund I Rice James Rice, Mayor Lord Roberts V. C. John Roberts Frank Ryan Thomas Sexton Archbishop Sheehan Susan Smith John Treacy Luke Wadding William V. Wallace Cardinal Wiseman Bullocks Wyse Lucien Bonaparte Wyse



Susan Smith, Waterford's best ever female athlete, was born in Waterford on September 14th, 1971 to David and Anne Smith. She is a grand-niece, on her paternal grandmother's side, of the immortal John Keane and she is a cousin (again on her father's side) of Alfie Hale.  Susan attended school, with her three sisters, at the local Presentation Convent and she joined her local club, St. Paul's A.C. when she was seven years old, quickly making her mark in Community Games athletics. She qualified for the Games' National finals every year and, on her tenth birthday, she won her very first National medal,  bronze, in the 200m. She started that year in age-group competitions and was a member of the St. Pauls 4x100m relay team that took bronze in the u/11 relay championships. Her first age-group individual National championship came at u/14 level and she remained unbeaten in hurdles competitions at age-group and schools competitions from then until she lost eligibility at age 18. She was the outstanding under-age athlete of her generation and in 1988 she was selected as the Irish age-group athlete of the year.    


In that same year she captained the Irish schools track team in the European Catholic Schools Games (She was also the overall captain of the team) and the age-group team for the Celtic Games.
Susan was now faced with a difficult choice. Her Leaving Certificate results had gained her a place, as a law student, in University College Dublin; she had an offer of a place in Brown University in Providence RI, USA, (One of the top Ivy League schools) and she had an offer to go to the U.S.S.R. to train with top coach Yuri Anisimov in Leningrad. She opted for Brown U. She continued her winning ways and established herself as the big star in her Conference. In her four years at Brown, where she captained the track team, she won more gold medals in the Conference Championships - 24 in all, 15 individual and 9 relays - than any other Ivy League athlete ever, man or woman. She was selected three times as MVP of the Championships and, in Brown, she was selected twice as Sportswoman of the year.  Susan graduated in 1993 with two Business degrees. In her first race after graduation, in the 400m Hurdles in the European Cup, she broke the navicular bone in her foot.  An operation followed but the leg did not heal properly and the injury put her off the track for the 1993, 1994 and 1995 seasons. A further operation, in August 1995, finally worked and she started a frantic rush to try and qualify for the Olympic Games in Atlanta, her adopted home, in only 11 months time.

She had teamed up with renowned coach Loren Seagrave and, under his guidance she felt that she was in the form of her life - but she needed the opportunity to prove it.  With the help of her firm, Coopers and Lybrand, she went to South Africa for early season competition and thus began the greatest single year assault on an Irish record that we have ever seen. Between January 1996 and the Olympic Games in July 1996 Susan set six new Irish records for the 400m Hurdles as follows.

56.49 - January 1996, Roodeport SA
56.14 - June 1996, Santry
56.01 - June 1996, Santry
55.46 - July 1996, Padua, ITA
55.08 - July 1996, Raleigh-Durham, USA
54.93 - July 1996, Atlanta, USA

In the Olympic Games Susan finished third in the first round and qualified for the semi-final where she finished in 5th position, missing the Olympic final by only one place.  However she finished in 11th place in the Games and she had the consolation of breaking her Irish record. Her Olympic experience, where she put Irish sprinting on the map, made her realise that she needed to become a full-time athlete in order to progress further. This was not possible without sponsorship but once again her employers came, partly, to the rescue.  

They transferred her to their Dublin office and allowed her to work part-time. This arrangement, while not ideal, was an improvement. Her schedules arrived from her coach by fax and she spoke to him regularly by phone. The World Championships were next in her sights and she journeyed to South Africa in January 1997 full of hope and enthusiasm. These were dashed when she tore a hamstring in training and, two days after that, she contracted a virus that seriously affected her health. After ten days she returned home and in all she lost 14 weeks training. Not that it showed, because 1997 was another upward curve in her career. She competed with distinction in the Grand Prix season, reaching the Grand Prix final in the 400m Hurdles. She also took part in the GP100m Hurdles final finishing 5th in a time of 13.22secs - a full half second faster than the Irish record, but the wind at 2.1 m/s was too high. However she ran superbly in the World Championships in Athens, finishing 2nd in her heat in a new Irish record of 54.61 and then she ran fourth in the semi-final to qualify for the final - the first Irish sprinter to achieve this feat. She finished 7th in the final.

For the 1998 season she decided to attempt the life of a full-time athlete and she resigned her position with Coopers and Lybrand. With sponsorship from the Irish Sports Council, ASICS and TNT Express Worldwide, she returned to the USA. In March she went to Tallahassee, FLA for a month of warm weather training but disaster struck again and she returned to her home in Athens, GA with FOUR stress fractures in her shins. This resulted in a loss of 11 weeks training. This season proved to be her best so far with a string of fast times. In Lithuania in May she scored a double, in the 100mH and 400mH as Ireland achieved promotion in the European Cup. Her 100mH time of 13.58secs was a new National record. She set two more National records for the 100mH that year by running 13.31secs in the National Championships and 13.12secs in the National League final. In late August she journeyed to the European Championships in Budapest full of confidence. The week preceding the Championships had seen her smash her 400m Hurdles record yet again, this time in 54.31secs but the season proved to be one week too long. She won her semi-final of the 400mH, the first Irish sprinter to ever win a semi-final of a major championship, but she was very distressed after the race and the signs were ominous.  She finished eighth in the final.

Her time of 54.31 in 1998 earned her 9th place in the IAAF ranking lists and the American magazine, Track and Field News, the bible of the sport, ranked her 10th in the world on her overall season. In 1999, after a full season of International and Grand Prix competition, she competed in the Seville World Championships where she reached the semi-final stage.

Susan has been the recipient of many awards marking her achievements and her contribution to the sport but the most prestigious award was made at the All-Stars banquet in February 2000 by the Irish Federation for age-group athletics (B.L.O.E.).  To mark the 25th year of the Federation they honoured Susan by naming her their Star of Stars - the greatest age-group athlete in Ireland in the past 25 years. The presentation, in the presence of 250 guests, was made by Mr. Bertie Ahearn, the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister).  

Susan announced, at the 2000 National Championships, that she was retiring from the sport after the Sydney Olympics. Just four days before her 1st round race in the Olympic 400mH she pulled a hamstring during some light training in the Olympic village. She sought the advice of the world famous sports therapist Ger Hartmann and the Irish, British and Australian doctors, and after intensive treatment they agreed that she might be able to run. She received a pain-killing injection on the day before her race and another injection some hours before she stepped on the track. She finished fourth in her heat and just missed out on a semi-final place. She subsequently confirmed that she would not have been able to take her place in the semi-final - even if she had qualified.  

Her career record to 2000 is as follows:

National Senior championship titles    
100mH (8), 1989,1990, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1998, 1999, 2000 (CBP in 1998 with 13.31secs.)

400mH (5), 1992, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000 (CBP in 1999 with 55.54secs.)

AAA u/age championships:
60mH u/15, 2nd :
  60mH u/17, 3rd80mH u/17, 2nd : 60mH u/20, 1st:  

Irish senior record;
400mH, 54.31secs, Zurich, SWI, 12/8/1998.


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