Lewis-Smallwood makes Olympic team
EUGENE, Ore. — Gia Lewis-Smallwood is headed to London this summer.
"I have not been there," the Centennial graduate said Sunday. "I've been a lot of places, but I am very excited to go."
The former Illini finished a "disappointing" fifth place in the discus at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Sunday, but she earned a spot on the U.S. team for the London Olympics thanks to her previously meeting the "A" standard of 203 feet, 5 inches.
"I am beyond happy and excited," she said. "This is absolutely amazing."
Stephanie Brown Trafton won the event with a throw of 213 feet, 10 inches for a chance to defend her Olympic gold medal.
Lewis-Smallwood's best throw Sunday was 192-10, but she was all but guaranteed a spot after making the finals.
"This is a wonderful moment. I wanted to compete a little better," she said, "but I competed really well all year, which is why I was in the position I was in in the first place."
Four years ago, Lewis-Smallwood fouled out of the finals and had not hit the "A" standard.
"I'm just so happy for Gia because she's been working for this for four years," said Mike Turk, the Illinois men's track & field coach and a personal coach for Lewis-Smallwood. "She certainly has established herself with her body of work over the last couple years to set up this opportunity for herself. It's a blessing to see this come through for her."
Lewis-Smallwood, who works at the YWCA of the University of Illinois and as an assistant volleyball coach at Parkland College, remembers the days when Champaign's Bonnie Blair was winning gold medals.
"It's exciting," Lewis-Smallwood said. "I remember so many of the other Champaign products that have gone through the Olympics. I am so blessed to be among their ranks. It is really, really cool."
Turk, who has been working with Lewis-Smallwood since after the 2008 Trials, agreed
"She's a local product, a product of the UI," Turk said. "She's been supported by so many people there. That's what makes it so special for all of us that are involved with her."
Next up for Lewis-Smallwood, it's back to the gym.
"What I have to do now is refocus and retrain," she said. "Lots of practice and lots of lifting. Be ready to rock and roll."
Illinois' Stephanie Richartz did not post a height in the pole vault.