Carmelita Jeter Jesse Williams win Jesse Owens Award

Carmelita Jeter Jesse Williams win Jesse Owens Award
By Pat Graham/ Associated Press

To celebrate winning USA Track and Field’s athlete of the year award, sprinter Carmelita Jeter spent the day at a beach in Los Angeles. Only, this was no typical day at the beach. Jeter was there for one reason: To sprint in the sand and increase her strength.

For Jeter, there’s no time for lounging in the sun, especially with the 2012 London Olympics right around the corner. Long known as the sprinter who couldn’t win on track’s biggest and brightest stages, Jeter shattered that perception by taking the 100-meter title at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, last summer. She also ran the anchor leg on the 400-meter relay team that held off a powerful Jamaican squad for the gold, along with taking second in the 200.

“I definitely needed to show myself that I could win a championship,” said Jeter, who along with high jumper Jesse Williams was honored Tuesday as a recipient of the Jesse Owens Award. “It was a weight lifted off my shoulders. “This definitely gives me momentum for 2012.”

Jeter turns 32 at the end of the month and shows no signs of slowing down. She had the world’s fastest time in the 100 (10.70 seconds) this season and the second-fastest mark in the 200 (22.20). That was due in large part to being able to stay healthy. Nagging injuries have long been her bugaboo, hampering promising seasons.

“I have fresher legs,” Jeter cracked during a conference call from the L.A. beach where she was training. “A lot of it also is when you get a little older, you take this a little bit more serious. You take it like an actual occupation. You take care of your body more, eat well, rest well, and a lot of that contributes to how I was performing.”

Not only that but she’s become a better listener. She’s gobbling up the advice from veteran coach John Smith.

“I’m just not going out there at practice and trying to run really fast because I can run fast,” said Jeter, who was the 100 and 200 champion in the Diamond League this season. “I’ve got to be smart and pay attention. I am turning 32 — glad everybody likes to bring it up — but it’s definitely not a disadvantage to me.”

Williams, of Eugene, Ore., had a splendid season as well, becoming the first American to win a world high jump crown since Charles Austin in 1991. An apt student of his event, Williams knew that little piece of trivia, too. He also figured it was high time to update that mark.

“I knew I could make a historical impact for the U.S. in my event,” Williams said. “It’s a big honor.”

So is this: Williams is the first high jumper to win the Jesse Owens Award, which was established in 1981 to recognize the top male and female athletes each year. The awards will be presented at the Hall of Fame banquet on Dec. 3 in St. Louis, Mo. The other men’s finalists included Walter Dix, Ashton Eaton, Ryan Hall, Trey Hardee, Bernard Lagat, Dwight Phillips, Jason Richardson, Galen Rupp and Christian Taylor. On the women’s side, the other nominees were Jillian Camarena-Williams, Desiree Davila, Lashinda Demus, Allyson Felix, Brittney Reese, Jenny Simpson and Morgan Uceny.

“This year has been unbelievable for me,” said Williams, who captured the Diamond League title with a slim win over the reigning Olympic champion, Andrey Silnov of Russia. “This year things started clicking.”

Jeter can relate. Now she’s hoping to carry the confidence over into next summer, especially after not making the team for the 2008 Beijing Games.

“Everybody wants to know if I’m going to be able to train hard this year since I did so well last year,” Jeter said. “I still have something missing in my medal case. I definitely have something that has me motivated right now.”

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