First Olympic games experience attributed to hard work for Lewis-Smallwood
Published: Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, August 28, 2012 17:08
The Olympic games are an exciting time for most Americans, but the games of the 30th Olympiad had an even bigger meaning for citizens of Champaign and students of Parkland.
Two Olympians hailed from Champaign this year in Tyler McGill of Champaign Central and Gia Lewis-Smallwood of Champaign Centennial.
The latter is an integral part of Cobras volleyball. Gia Lewis-Smallwood has worked with the Cobras as the lead strength trainer for the last three seasons.
She was granted the job by head coach Cliff Hastings, whom Lewis-Smallwood used to work out with at Prime Time Volleyball Club before he accepted the job with the Cobras.
Lewis-Smallwood qualified for the Olympics for the first time in her career in the discus throw this past summer. It was an athletic path that was not part of her original plan.
Her primary sport of choice throughout high school at Centennial was basketball as she was set on being a walk on player at the University of Illinois. Lewis-Smallwood was also involved with track as a sprinter, but little did she know that another track event would eventually be her claim to success.
Due to previous discus throwers graduating, the event was relatively open throughout her senior year.
“My last eight weeks of high school my coach said ‘try the discus,’ so I said ‘okay,’” Gia Lewis-Smallwood explained. “So I tried it and it went pretty far - about 140 feet.”
The track team at Illinois took notice and offered her a shot at track. She respectfully declined and stayed true to her basketball commitment.
That simple eight-week discus experience in high school would prove to be a key for Lewis-Smallwood. She went on to complete her original plan and play basketball for Illinois as a walk on.
However, that plan did not work out like she hoped as she received little playing time freshman year.
“I started thinking if I want to do a sport beyond college, what would I have to do?” She said. “I talked to my parents and they encouraged me to do track. I officially started throwing discus my sophomore year of college at Illinois.”
From there, she took full advantage of the opportunity given to her. Her senior year in 2001 she won the Big Ten championship in the discus throw with a throw of 54.9 meters or roughly 180 feet.
Once college was over, her battle had only just begun. She competed on the national level for ten years until she finally had a break through year in 2011 to qualify for international competition.
“I had a lot of success really fast, but it’s hard to go from a really good collegiate athlete to one of the best athletes in the world,” she said. “That transition took a long time.”
Thanks to the help of her current coach Michael Turk, Lewis-Smallwood was able to reach her highest potential.
“He really got my technique,” she explained. “You have to find a coach that knows the correct technique, but also knows what’s going to work best for you. He did a wonderful job of that.”
Turk is a current track and field assistant coach at Illinois and works with the throwing events.
Lewis Smallwood’s key moment of her career came at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR.
Despite finishing sixth at the trials, she was awarded a spot due to the fact that she had already thrown the A-standard in discus, 62 meters in a previous national event.
Many of her competitors had not done so ever before, so she had performed well enough based off her body of work over the years throwing discus to earn a spot.
“The Olympic trials were a lot of pressure,” she pointed out. “But you kind of see where you are competing-wise. I didn’t compete as well as I wanted to, though.”
That was beside the point now that Gia Lewis-Smallwood had finally broken through in her fourth Olympic Trials.
Once in London, she kept close to her routine and didn’t allow any distractions.
“I trained twice a day, I threw discus twice a day, I weight-lifted once a day, and had massage treatment at night.” she said. “I really wanted to stay focused on doing as well as I could do.”
Much to her dismay, keeping that busy didn’t allow for her to see as many other sports as she wanted. However, Lewis-Smallwood did take advantage of being on a team with many other superstars.
She met Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Deron Williams and other Champaign native Tyler McGill among many others during her time in London.
“The one person I really wanted to meet was Deron Williams,” she said. “We were very much Team USA. Nobody treated anybody any differently.”
In London, Lewis-Smallwood performed valiantly but came up three places short of qualifying for finals. Her throw of 61.44 meters came up one meter short of the woman who got the last spot in the final.