* Eastside Catholic's Anthony Smith committed to the University of Washington on Wednesday
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Few other seasons would have gifted Anthony Smith with the kind of mysterious speculation that came his way in May when three separate time trial videos -- including a somewhat grainy, head-on 100m video -- indicated he had improved dramatically in the 100m, 200m and 400m.
In a normal year, against regular competition and in regularly sanctioned meets, that speculation would have ended the moment the results came raining down early on in the spring.
But COVD-19 changed all of that.
And instead, that intrigue only flowed deeper until Smith eventually silenced any doubters by producing three personal best times of 10.62 seconds in the 100m, 21.63 seconds in the 200m and 48.06 seconds in the 400m in June at the Desert Dream Last Hurrah Invitational -- later, his 200m best would eventually lower to 21.38 in July.
"I kind of wanted to prove myself more, because not many people knew who I was," Smith said of his spectacular spring and summer. "I knew what I could do."
Much like Amador Valley's (CA) John Lester, whose dramatic breakthrough in the 800m also followed a similar path and would also lead to major scholarship opportunities, Smith would go on to validate those results over and over again, eventually guaranteeing his performances were no fluke: He ran four times at 10.64 or faster; four times 21.68 or faster; and twice under 50 seconds.
Major NCAA Division I recruiters came calling, and Smith, a native of Seattle, Washington, would eventually have his moment, sifting through discussions with programs such as the University of Michigan and the University of New Mexico.
But his heart always took him back to the University of Washington -- the school his father attended -- and on Friday the Eastside Catholic (WA) High School senior committed to the Huskies for the upcoming National Letter of Intent period.
* In June, MileSplit's Olivia Ekpone, Cory Mull and Bryan Deibel broke down Smith's performances in Arizona
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"That's been my dream school since I was born," said Smith, who grew up going to Washington football games with his family. "I have always wanted to go to UW. So it was almost like an easy decision for me."
After taking in a Zoom call with coaches, administrators and future teammates, Smith made up his mind, becoming the second big recruit to choose the Huskies -- and doing so, gave the program a statement-making sprints signing. MileSplit's No. 1 ranked athlete in the Class of 2021, Nathan Green, also chose Washington.
Smith, who owns a 3.8 GPA, said he was particularly comfortable with Huskies' sprint coach Jeshua Anderson and the sprinting corps.
But the fact that both Smith and Lester ended up with (major-percentage) scholarship opportunities despite a true full season speaks to the resolve both found through an unprecedented season.
Neither were among their class's top recruits nationally after finishing their respective sophomore seasons.
A wild six months certainly changed that fact. Lester would finish the year with his class' No. 1 time in the 800m and mile. Smith would finish seventh-best in the 100m, fifth in the 200m and fifth in the 400m.
"I just had to prove it and just show that I could compete with the top people in my class," Smith said.
While both Lester and Smith reached their respective state championships as sophomores, each took different routes.
Lester had a particularly difficult path, considering he started off 2019 with a 2:03.84 and had to manage his way through one of the most difficult state qualfying standards in the country. He would eventually finish seventh-overall in the championship final, in a personal best 1:52.99.
But his transformation a year later would then reach insane heights over a season made short by COVID-19, with Lester dropping the third-fastest junior 800m of all-time in 1:48.26 (part of three sub-1:50 efforts, including two time trials) and two mile efforts under 4:10, including a 4:06.97 in June.
Lester committed to Stanford in August, though to say the Cardinal were on him to begin the spring would be an understatement.
Smith's breakthrough, meanwhile, took similar strides.
He finished third overall in Washington's Class 3A 200m 2019, going 22.33, but it was his offseason work that put him in another stratosphere. Having transitioned out of mid-distance work as a freshman, he found new coaching and ultimately began to blossom.
In some ways, that wasn't so surprising. Smith's father, Teo, ran for the University of Washington and was a national champion for Turkey in the 100m, 200m and 400m. But Anthony didn't quite know where he fit on the track until his sophomore season.
* Smith in the AAU Junior Olympic Games' 17-18 boys division 100m final
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And without a proper junior season, his development against the top competition was put in jeopardy.
His time trials in May indicated that he was roughly in the territory of where he would eventually end up. And as June arrived, Smith, his family and his coaches traveled to Arizona for the Desert Dream Last Hurrah Invitational.
A heavily anticipated matchup against Fairview's Gavin Schurr netted runner-up finishes in the 100m and 200m and a win in the 400m. His time of 48.06 would eventually stand as his best of the season.
"It definitely gave me a bigger platform," Smith said of the opportunity. "The hype around Gavin and me, with me next to him in the 100m and 200m and eventually beating him in the 400m, it helped the word get out to more people."
Smith would go on to compete at the AAU Junior Olympics West Coast Championships in July and then would finish second in the 100m and fifth in the 200m at the AAU Junior Olympics in August.
However, Smith still believes he had more in him.
"Before the 200m final, I threw up five times right before I got to the line," he said.
Smith's ultimate goals in 2020 were to break 10.3 and 21 seconds. But he knows there's still time to accomplish those marks.
In all over 2020, he secured 11 automatically timed performances, three new personal bests and his 200m effort of 21.38 became the third fastest junior performance in Washington history.
But the best could be yet to come.
Smith never had an opportunity to win a state title as a junior. But in 2021, he's hopeful as ever.
"I want to be able to win state in the 100m, 200m and 400m," Smith said. "That's the goal."
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