KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knoxville native Keegan Smith told us about his Olympic aspirations at 11 years old after setting two national records, now at 15 years old the running phenom continues to make strides towards racing on the World Stage.
Smith is a freshman at Knoxville Catholic High School and is coming off of a record-setting cross country season.
“It’s exciting, just as a fan of the sport, to watch kids like that run and then to be involved on a daily basis coaching them is a really fun experience,” said Fighting Irish head cross country coach Sean O’Neil.
O’Neil has been coaching the sport at Knox Catholic for 15 years. Through those years, O’Neil has had four student-athletes compete in five national championships. The longtime coach identified four traits elite runners possess: speed, endurance, mental toughness and durability. Smith has all four of those traits.
“He’s got a gift for running, he loves to do it which helps a lot otherwise it’s just a whole lot of hard work and misery,” said O’Neil.
O’Neil said there was some concern with Smith transitioning from running two miles in middle school to racing in a 5K in high school and having to learn to compete with runners with more experience. However, Smith continued to stay ahead of the pack.
“I just want to give my best every race that’s my goal every single race is to just run my best and my best means giving it my all,” said Smith.
In his first season running for the Fighting Irish Smith won a state title in Divison II, Class AA with a time of 15:29.09. He also became the fastest freshman ever in the sport to run a 5K clocking a record time of 14:53.79 in the Southern Showcase in Alabama according to O’Neil and the MileSplit Database.
Smith did not slow down.
His performance earned him an invite to compete in the Eastbay Cross Country National Championship in California, becoming just the fifth freshman in event history to race on the big stage. He finished 35th in the nation finishing the 5K in 16 minutes and three seconds.
“We’ve had a bunch of Eastbay finalists here (Knoxville) already before, but to be the first freshman to come out of Knoxville, especially in Tennessee, it means a lot to represent Tennessee in that way,” said Smith. “I’m making history but Tennessee is along for the ride with me.”
Smith is gearing up for the indoor track season and is focused on shaving down his time, but the long-term goal remains the same; crossing the finish line in the Olympics one day.