LONDON - During her days as a pre-teen gymnast, Amanda Smock used to put on a warmup suit and march around her living room in Melrose, Minn., waving to the walls with both hands. "I pretended I was in the Olympics Opening Ceremony,'' she said. "That was my first dream.''
Smock doesn't have to pretend any more. The first-time Olympian begins competition Friday in the preliminary round of the women's triple jump, on the first day of the track and field meet at the London Games. After turning 30 a week ago -- on the day of the Opening Ceremony -- the Minneapolis resident is among 35 athletes who will compete, with the top 12 advancing to Sunday's final.
The U.S. has never had an Olympic medalist in the women's triple jump. Smock's personal best is 46 feet, 6 inches, considerably short of the top-ranked women in the event. She found a good omen, however, in her timing. Smock achieved that personal best last summer during the first week of August, giving her hope she can reach another milestone exactly one year later.
"I've been progressively building this season,'' said Smock, who will jump last among the 17 competitors in the first of two qualifying groups. "In each competition, I've made little improvements, and in practice, I'm jumping farther than I ever have. All those things have built my confidence.''
The favorites are Olha Saladuha of Ukraine and Caterine Ibarguen of Colombia, who could become the first athlete from her country to win an Olympic gold medal. Ibarguen has won six of her eight competitions this season, with a best of 49-0 1/2. Saladuha has the world's longest jump this year (49-2).