Keegan Smith is only the fifth freshman to compete in the National Cross Country Championship in 42 years.
KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (WATE) – Knoxville native Keegan Smith told us about his Olympic aspirations at age 11 after setting two national records, now at age 15 the running phenomenon continues to progress towards competition on the World Scene.
Smith is a freshman at Knoxville Catholic High School and has just completed a record cross country season.
“It’s exciting, just like a fan of the sport, to watch kids like this run and train them every day is a really fun experience,” said Sean O’Neil, Head Coach of Fighting Irish.
O’Neil has been coaching the sport at Knox Catholic for 15 years. During those years, O’Neil had four student-athletes compete in five national championships. The longtime trainer has identified four traits that elite runners possess: speed, endurance, mental toughness and durability. Smith has these four traits.
“He’s got a knack for running, he loves to do it which helps a lot, otherwise it’s just a lot of hard work and misery,” said O’Neil.
O’Neil said there was some concern that Smith would transition from the two-mile run in college to the five-mile run in high school and that he would have to learn to compete with more experienced runners. However, Smith continued to stay ahead of the pack.
“I just want to give my best in every race, my goal in every race is to do my best and my best means give it my all,” said Smith.
In his first consecutive season for the Fighting Irish, Smith won a state title in Division II, Class AA with a time of 15: 29.09. According to O’Neil and the MileSplit database, he also became the fastest all-time freshman in the sport to run a 5K with a record time of 14: 53.79 in the Southern Showcase in Alabama.
Smith didn’t slow down.
His performance saw him be invited to compete in the Eastbay Cross Country National Championship in California, becoming the fifth freshman in the event’s history to run on the big stage. He was 35th nationally finishing the 5K in 16 minutes and three seconds.
“We’ve had a bunch of Eastbay finalists here (Knoxville) before, but being the first freshman to come out of Knoxville, especially Tennessee, means a lot to represent Tennessee in this way,” said Smith. “I’m making history, but Tennessee is with me. “
Smith is getting ready for the indoor track season and is focusing on reducing his time, but the long term goal remains the same; cross the finish line at the Olympics someday.
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