Over the last 16 months, John Smith has been sued for $1 million, ended a 17-year coaching association with UCLA and watched star pupil Maurice Greene's 100-meter world record fall to Tim Montgomery.
Like others in the track community, Smith heard whispers that the HSI track club, headed by Smith and Emanuel Hudson, was faltering. He laughed them off.
"Anybody that thinks we're lost has not seen anything yet," Smith said. "The elite athletes I'm working with, we're all connected together. We have something to fight for. It's like they're saying, 'When it's bleak and dark and it seems like I'm on my last breath, I've been able to perform my best.' I've watched each and every one of them have their back against the wall and do their best."
Smith's back is no longer in danger -- at least in the legal sense. The civil suit filed in August 2001 by hurdler Anjanette Kirkland, who claimed Smith grabbed her and punched her mother and sister during an argument in a Eugene, Ore., hotel after the U.S. championships, was settled recently. Terms were not made public.
"Some very unfortunate things occurred. It's something I put behind me," Smith said. "A lot of times you walk a line and a mistake happens. I want to show people mistakes can happen and you can learn from them and grow stronger."
HSI last week added to its roster sprinter Angela Williams, the only athlete ever to win four consecutive NCAA 100-meter dash titles. Williams began working out Monday with Smith's core group, which includes Greene, Ato Boldon, Torri Edwards, Inger Miller and Jon Drummond.
"With Angela, we're adding talent and character," Smith said. "Those are the kind of people we want. We were founded on the principle that you work hard every day. That's the flavor we have now.
"I've watched her run since she was a baby. She's been blessed with a very competitive attitude and she had a great coach, Dr. Ernie Gregoire. He got a PhD at a time there weren't many black men with PhDs. That was inspiring for me. For me to work with one of the students he had is the ultimate. My job is not to muck it up."
Hudson, an attorney and agent, said HSI is hardly faltering. "Around [the 2001 world championships in] Edmonton, we cleaned house. We thought we'd do better with less people, but more serious people," he said. "We said we were going to get lean and start cherry picking. The only person we've brought in is the only person who's won the NCAA championships four times. Angela was a natural for us ....
"With respect to our supposed demise, what's that quote? Rumors of our death have been greatly exaggerated."
Rumors of Greene's decline are also untrue, Hudson said. Greene and the others spent two weeks working out at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista this month, and Hudson said Greene will compete indoors.
"My problem with Maurice is holding him down so he doesn't overwork himself," Smith said. "He's had a tough year, as every great person does sometimes. You go back to the basics and the things that made you great.... Maurice understands you have to work hard, be patient and humble, and you will get the results you desire."
The Doctor Is In
Swimmer Jenny Thompson didn't retire after she won three relay gold medals and an individual bronze in the 100-meter freestyle at Sydney to expand her collection to 10, more than any other female Olympic swimmer.
The Stanford alumna merely stepped back a bit while she plunged into medical school at Columbia University. But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks inspired her to reevaluate her life.
"It was so frustrating being in medical school and being so close [to ground zero] but not being able to help," she said.
"It made me think, 'How can I help people?' And I realized that when I left swimming, I hadn't helped people the way I wanted, like being a role model and giving back to the sport."
She began last summer in her hometown of Dover, N.H., working with kids in the pool she swam in as a youngster and which has since been named for her. While conducting clinics, she rediscovered her zest for competition and made the U.S. team for the Pan Pacific meet, setting a personal-best of 25.13 seconds in winning the 50 free.
Although she's back in school and can fit in only 90 minutes' training each evening, she's not ready to leave the pool. Eager to test herself again, she will compete in this weekend's FINA World Cup meet in East Meadow, N.Y., which has drawn an impressive array of world-record holders and Olympic medalists.
"I've been working out consistently but not the amount of time I used to, so I don't know where it will leave me," she said. "I haven't had time to lift weights, either. I haven't competed against the Europeans since the Olympics, so it will be great to see them and the kids from the Pan Pacs."
Thompson is inclined to aim for the 2004 Athens Games but knows med school and serious training would create a difficult balancing act.