Jan. 11, 2013
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Monday, Aug. 6, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2012-13 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- For someone who began her track and field career as Jack of all trades, University of Iowa sophomore Annemie Smith has found a niche with the weight and hammer throws.
Smith, a native of South Africa, placed ninth in hammer throw at the 2012 Big Ten Championships (187-feet-1) and 40th at NCAA West Preliminary (178-6).
"I'm not used to that pressure. The Big Ten is a big deal compared to South African meets," Smith said. "It's more organized; it matters, so you have to do well."
Smith has come quite a way from her days as a young thrower who literally pierced her body practicing the javelin.
"I used to be a Jack of all trades, master of none," Smith said. "I did shot put, discus, and my coach had me try javelin, which I did horribly in. I managed to stab myself in the side, and I have no idea how I did that. My coach said, `That event is not for you.'"
Smith wasn't discouraged. She worked through the different techniques in the hammer and discus. In 10th grade she succumbed to pressure and had three no-throws at a national meet; two years later she broke the South African record.
"I worked hard, really hard," Smith said. "There were days when there was sweat, tears and blood. I threw until my fingers bled. It has been a long road, but I like it."
At a senior mini-meet, Smith caught the eye of fellow South African Arno van der Westhuizen, who just happens to hold the men's hammer throw record at the University of Iowa.
"He wanted to know how I felt about coming to America," Smith recalls. "I said there is no way I was going to go that far away from home."
But Smith's father, Dries, scribbled down van der Westhuizen's email address. A few days passed before father and daughter realized that attending the University of Iowa was a pretty good idea after all.
First, there was 1 ½ years of paperwork. Smith took the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) and two other exams to prove she could speak English. It was part of a long road to becoming a Hawkeye.
Her collegiate weight throw debut was a success, winning the New Year's Classic in the Iowa Recreation Building with a season-best toss of 57-feet-3 ¾. That mark is seventh-best in UI history. But the week of the Big Ten Championships, UI throws coach Scott Cappos took Smith to the emergency room. Stomach pain was an indication that her appendix needed to be removed, hindering her throwing progress as the outdoor season neared.
"She developed into the weight throw and did well," Cappos said.
Now the Jack of all trades is a specialist.
"When Annemie came to the United States she also learned the weight throw," Cappos said. "The weight throw is not an international event, and she had never done it before. We taught her to do that event; it's a little different from the hammer. It's more of a strength event, and she is not very strong yet, so she is a much better hammer thrower. In the long run, she is going to be outstanding in both events."
Smith acknowledges a need for more technical fine-tuning and more time in the weight room. During the indoor season she wants to set a school record in the weight throw and score points for the Hawkeyes at the Big Ten Championships on Feb. 22-23. Her goals for the hammer are similar, with an added international flavor.
"I want the (South African senior) national record," Smith said. "I want to qualify for a big international meet. The Olympics are a high goal, but by any means, I would go for that."
Cappos first saw Smith compete at the 13th IAAF World Junior Championships in Moncton, Canada.
"Any recruiting process starts with performance, and she had a really good performance," Cappos said. "When I watched her throw, I saw some attributes she had: she is very fast in the ring, moves well, and is athletic. I also saw some technical changes I could make quickly that would help her reach a higher level."
Cappos says Smith has an opportunity to become an NCAA All-American as quickly as this spring, but even that accomplishment would be a mere scratch to the surface of her potential.
"Our expectation is that she is going to continue to develop and grow, and we're hoping she can approach the standard where she can be competing for her country in international meets such as the World Championships and maybe someday the Olympic Games," Cappos said. "She has represented South Africa on several international teams. She is the best thrower in their country, and she has won multiple national championships there."
Smith is majoring in health and human physiology/pre-medicine. Saying that she is "not afraid of hard work," her goal is to become a surgeon.
One vice Smith uncovered in the United States is taking a liking to the snack "puppy chow," a treat that includes chocolate chips, peanut butter and powdered sugar. But she knows how and when to show restraint.
"I would rather train and eat healthy than stuff myself up with sweets," Smith said.
Eating healthy is one area that makes Smith an influential role model. There are also in-the-ring examples of Smith leading by example.
"When other athletes watch her, they know she is something special in the ring," Cappos said. "The younger athletes feel that if they put the time in and train hard, they can be right up there with Annemie someday."
The Hawkeyes open the indoor season at home with the Iowa Open on Saturday, Jan. 12, beginning at 1 p.m., (CT). The outdoor season kicks off March 22-23 at the Alabama Invitational in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The Musco Twilight XIV will be Saturday, April 20, at the Cretzmeyer Track.