Girls #1JANELL SMITH, Fredonia, 400m 52.3 (1965)IAAF Score: 1,115 points
I have a trivia question for you. Over the last year or so, I've asked every hard-core track junkie in Kansas I could find this same question, and no one - no one - got it right:
In 1964, a high school junior from the state of Kansas made the U.S. Olympic Track and Field team and competed in the Tokyo Olympics.
This athlete went on to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated the following year and set numerous American Records. This athlete IS NOT JIM RYUN (who also made the 1964 Olympic team as a high school junior). Who is this athlete?
Kansas didn't have just one high school junior on that 1964 Tokyo Olympic track and field team.
We had two.
Everyone knows Jim Ryun, but the fact there's a second name on that list has been all but lost on even some of the greatest and most knowledgeable Kansas track and field fans.
It's time to change that.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to one of the greatest, most ground-breaking - but also most overlooked and unknown - athletes ever, not just from Kansas but in the United States.
Meet Janell Smith from Fredonia, Kansas aka The Fredonia Flash, who:
● Set the World Record for the indoor 400 meters in 1965 while still in high school.
● Didn't have a girls high school track team so the Knights of Columbus in Fredonia formed a track club just to be able to raise money to send her to meets.
● Was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated on May 10, 1965 and in this article, titled THIS IS THE WAY THE GIRLS GO. Let's just say that it's obvious that it was written at a very different time and leave it at that.
● Was a two-time National AAU 440 yard and 400 meter champion in 1964 and 1965, her junior and senior years in high school.
● Qualified for the U.S. 1963 Pan American Games at Sao Paulo, Brazil in the 80 meter hurdles as a high school sophomore, and also tied the American Record for the same event that same year.
● Set the American Record at 220y when she was 15.
● has been perched on top of the Kansas 400m all-time list 55 years. FIFTY-FIVE YEARS.
● never ran in a state track meet because Kansas was still years away from even having a girls state track meet.
● in 1965, on a cinder track, with no team, at a time when girls high school sports participation in the U.S. was measured in the hundreds instead of the hundreds of thousands, ran a 52.3 400m. 52.3 would still lead the U.S. national high school list some years despite there being hundreds of times more girls running the 400 today, girls with track teams, and meets, and synthetic surfaces.
Janell Smith looking over a tourist map of Tokyo before departing for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as a high school junior at Fredonia High School.
She ran in a different era. Title IX, guaranteeing women equal opportunity in sports wouldn't be passed until 1972, sparking a revolution in women's sports. 1972 was also the year of the first girls state track meet in Kansas, seven years after Smith graduated from high school and eight years after she represented the U.S. in the Tokyo Olympics.
Like Smith in 1964, McLaughlin qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics in high school, but in the 400H. McLaughlin's high school 400m PR was 51.88, just .42 faster than Smith, and McLaughlin had a team and the best tracks and training available. She was highly recruited out of high school, with opportunities to turn professional as well. She chose to go to the University of Kentucky but after one year, she turned professional.
How much was McLaughling worth as a pro, with similar accomplishments to Smith, more than 50 years later?
McLaughlin signed with the legendary William Morris Agency for a deal that has an estimated base salary of $1.5 million per year.
Smith, on the other hand, had almost no college opportunities and being a paid professional was illegal in track and field at the time.
Smith would go on to Emporia State University, which had no formal women's program, but she was allowed to train and compete when the opportunity arose. She did win the 60y and 440y at first NAIA National Indoor meet. Smith would finish college, marry and become a school teacher.
She hit the 1968 Olympic Trials standard for the long jump and with the encouragement of her husband, she decided she would take one more shot at the Olympics. However, just a few months into her training, she discovered she was pregnant and ended her Olympic bid and with it, her athletic career.
Smith was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. She is retired from teaching and still resides in Kansas.