Sports Awards: Swimmer Jack Smith rises to the top of the class
JACK Smith's stellar year saw him break the all-time British 50m freestyle record for his age group, then claim two national youth gold medals.
Smith, from Penkhull, had emerged from a tough 2011 hungry for success – and, at 6ft 5in tall, out to make his mark as a sprint swimmer.
He may have won the national age 400m freestyle title two years in a row as a youngster, but coaches were convinced he could make a splash over the shorter distances.
Smith, below, then aged 15, showed his explosive speed at the British Gas Swimming Championships in the new London Olympics pool in March.
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He stopped the clock at 23.86secs in his 50m heat, shaving six hundredths of a second off the existing record.
The challenge from that point, coach Jon Rudd admitted, was to maintain that standard come the summer and the National Youth Championships at Sheffield.
Once again, he stepped up to the plate.
He was ranked seventh in the 100m freestyle, but came storming through the heats and semi-finals before winning the final in 51.57secs.
The 16-year-old also won bronze in the 50m freestyle and then qualified third fastest in the 200m event before deciding to withdraw to concentrate on his other races.
He capped the week by being part of the Plymouth Leander team which won 4x100m gold.
Smith entered the water in second place for his anchor leg, but managed to haul his way to the front.
He is now in training for this year's British Gas Championships, which will be held in Leeds this weekend.
Hitting form again will book him a place at the European Junior Championships in Poland this summer.
He has already produced fast enough times to be eligible for the senior World Championships qualifiers, back in Sheffield at the end of June.
However, that might be put on the back burner if he has an opportunity to take on the very best of his peers from across the continent.
His dad, Martin Smith, said: "He's got a different kind of pressure now. He is setting the benchmark. He looked in the past at what others were doing out in the front and now he's there to be shot at in a competitive field.
"It is not like he just beat five or six people to become national youth champion, he is a sport which has the highest participation rate in the country."
Smith has been nominated in the Junior Individual category of The Sentinel/City of Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality of the Year Awards by his dad.
Martin added: "He's a big strong lad, but British Swimming say they won't rush him.
"They'll bring him through at his own pace.
"He has worked so hard in such a demanding sport, training 27 hours a week – but some people do that and don't win."