Lewis-Smallwood ready to keep throwing
With his computer fired up broadcasting the live feed of the women's discus preliminary round, William Lewis paced about his Champaign home in between daughter Gia Lewis-Smallwood's three attempts Friday.
"I was walking around with my stomach in a knot, but that's what parents go through," Lewis said.
He watched, along with his daughter's dog, as Lewis-Smallwood delivered a throw of 61.44 meters (201.58 feet) at London's Olympic Stadium to place 15th in the field of 35 athletes. The top 12 athletes advanced to today's Olympic final.
"We were cheering her on, trying to help her pull it out," Lewis said. "She looked comfortable, she looked relaxed and she performed well. She came up just a little bit short, but it was a good performance."
Lewis was unable to travel to London to watch the competition with his wife, Delilah. He had to remain in Champaign to look after his mother, who has been ill.
"That was tough not to be able to be there," he said. "I wear my emotions on my sleeve. But it was outstanding, fantastic, to watch my daughter compete on a world stage. It was a special opportunity for her, and I thought she did very well."
Lewis-Smallwood, a 1997 Centennial graduate and former Illini All-American, scratched on her first throw, and the 61.44-meter effort came on her second attempt of the day. Her final attempt traveled 61.25 meters (200.95 feet). France's Melina Robert-Michon (62.47) earned the final qualifying spot.
"This was my first time in front of 80,000 people; you can really get uplifted by this crowd," Lewis-Smallwood told reporters in London after the competition. "This field is amazing. There is no other competition that compares. There are far more people here than worlds. I'm really proud that I came out and gave it my best."
Lewis-Smallwood, whose personal-best throw is 63.97 meters, would have qualified 10th at the 2008 Beijing Games with the same effort she produced Friday.
"She called right after the competition, and she said any other year her throw would have made the automatic standard to get in," Lewis said. "It's just one of those things where it was a special year and a lot of good athletes."
Lewis-Smallwood also is hoping her first appearance at the Olympic Games isn't her last. Shortly after Friday's competition, the 33-year-old took to her Facebook page to thank her supporters and to let them know she's not finished.
"Hey Facebook friends thanks so much for you cheering me on! I am very happy with my performance today. I just threw in the biggest arena of my life. I heard there were over 80,000 people there and I finished 15 almost making the final," Lewis-Smallwood wrote on Facebook. "My head is held high, there are no tears only joy. Also I have no plans of retiring anytime soon. You can throw discus easily into your late thirties."
That means more work for UI men's track and field coach Mike Turk, Lewis-Smallwood's personal throwing coach, but he doesn't mind.
"She told me she wanted to keep going, and she felt there was more she could do. We'll take it year by year, and as long as she wants to do it, I'll put forth whatever effort I can to help her," said Turk, who made the trip to London with Lewis-Smallwood.
"Age is a factor, but she's not too old to make a run at that. The big question at that point in the career is if she can stay healthy. If she does, she can keep progressing."
Whatever Lewis-Smallwood decides, she's got her parents' backing.
"If she's got the energy, we'll be there with her and supporting her," Lewis said. "I can understand the hunger now and good for her. Don't quit, don't ever quit."