A HALL OF FAME RUNNER
Janell Smith-Carson to be inducted into Kansas Sports Hall of Fame
Tribune Sports Editor
Running took Janell Smith-Carson all over the world. Now, her athletic achievements have secured her a permanent place in Kansas sports history.
"It's a big honor," Carson said about being inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. "It's just nice to be thought of as one of the elite." Carson definitely reached "elite" status in the world of track and field.
Carson grew up in Fredonia around track and field. Her father Meade Smith was her coach.
"My dad was a sprinter in high school and college and my brother (Sonny) was a runner," she said. "My dad noticed that I had a lot of speed. He decided to coach me and I started running when I was about 10 years old."
By her late teens, she set several Junior Olympic records and competed in the long jump (leaping over 19 feet), ran the 70-yard hurdles in just over nine seconds and ran the 100 and 200, too. "I ran to win," Janell said. "And I worked hard so I could."
Eventually, she gave up her other events for the 400 meters. It soon became her signature event. "My dad thought I had a better chance of making the Olympics in the 400," she said.
Janell met the Olympic qualifying standard time in the 400 and was able to compete at the Olympic Trials. At the trials, she took first place in the event and was the only American woman to qualify for the Olympics in the 400.
Carson talked about representing her country as something she'll never forget.
"It was a lot of fun being in the Olympic village and meeting all of the different Olympians," she said. "After we competed we did some sight seeing, too. And the people were really friendly to us. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Beyond her experience at the Olympics, Carson was a two-time AAU national champ in the 400 (1964-65) and competed in the Pan-American Games in 1963 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She was also featured in the May 10, 1965 edition of Sports Illustrated. The magazine's cover story focused on Janell and another prep runner and how they represented the growth of women's track and field in the United States.
But despite all of her accomplishments and recognition, Janell said she still had a normal life as a high school student in Fredonia. She even found time to participate in band and cheerleading. At the same time, star female athletes were often labeled as masculine.
"It was really different back then," Carson said. "We were always trying to prove that we were feminine. And I really hoped that I could inspire girls."
After high school, Janell's options were limited as far as track. "I really wanted to try to go the 1968 Olympics, but there weren't any colleges around that had women's track teams," she said. "Title IX hadn't been passed yet."
She had track scholarship offers but Smith opted to stay close to home and go to Emporia State Teachers College.
Carson added she hopes today's female athletes realize how good they have it.
"What I missed the most was not having other girls to run with and not being on a team," she said. "The girls now have so many more opportunities."
After college, Janell married Mike Carson in 1970. The couple have three sons and ten grandchildren and Janell had a 33 year career as a grade school teacher.
As she reflected on her track career, Carson noted that she was able to run all over the world. "I ran in Munich, Germany; Kiev, Russia; Warsaw, Poland and London, Los Angeles and New York," she said. Carson also ran in Brazil, Jamaica and Ecuador.
“For anyone, let alone a high school girl, seeing the world was quite exciting. I knew it was a big deal," she said. "It was fun and traveling around the world was like a reward for all my hard work. I enjoyed it a lot."
After 45 years, Carson's times and records still hold up with today's top female prep athletes. Janell's best time in the 400 was 52.3 seconds. There have now been 38 state track meets for girls in Kansas. No one in any class has recorded a time that fast in the 400. Carson also jumped nearly 20 feet in the long jump, which would be the best-ever at the state track meet. Her times in the hurdles and the sprints would also stand up today against the best female athletes of the state. Carson not only broke the stereotype of female athletes, but she also broke the barriers of her sport with her impressive performances.