SE: The Impossible Dream Comes True

Ed Broxterman represented the USA in Atlanta in 1996

June 29, 2012

By Mark Janssen

When your time comes, take advantage of it. The old saying is, “Success happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

The United States Track and Field Trials are in progress in Eugene, Ore., where K-State’s Erik Kynard was one of the favorites to make the USA’s high jump team, and he did so with a second-place finish.

For the vast majority of the elite athletes at the trials, however, it’s an uphill battle, like it was for K-State’s Ed Broxterman in 1996 and Christian Smith in 2008.

But on that one special day 16 and four years ago, respectively, those two Wildcats experienced the impossible dream.

Broxterman thinks he went into the Olympic Trials ranked 18th among 20 or 21 contestants.

Put it this way: he was far enough down the list that he didn’t know that he would even be invited to the Trials until the Monday prior to the weekend competition.

“I was jumping on a bum ankle and hadn’t jumped all year because I tore it up pretty good,” reflected the now 39-year-old Broxterman, who lives in Kansas City working in real estate.

In fact, Broxterman only jumped twice all year, clearing 7-foot at Nebraska and 6-foot-8 just prior to the Trials at Emporia State where he tweaked his ankle.

But since he had cleared 7-4.5 the year before when he placed second at the NCAA Championships, he secured the invitation.

Laughing, Broxterman said, “I hadn’t cleared more than 7-foot, but then go to the Trials and clear 7-6.5 to make the Olympic team. The opening height was 7-2.5, which was over two inches higher than I made all year.”

Looking back, Broxterman said, “I had jumped 7-4.5 the year before, so I knew I had it in me. It was just about putting it all together. High jumping is physical but also so much mental, and at least once a week going into the trials I had gone to the K-State sports psychologist. He taught me how to increase and decrease my energy level in more of a lab setting. Looking back, I think that was critical.”

Broxterman cleared just one bar – 7-foot-1 – at the Olympic Games staged in Atlanta. While chumming with the basketball Dream Team and tennis standouts like Monica Seles and Gigi Fernandez really was, “a different world to be a part of,” he goes back to the Trials as being his personal high.

“I remember after qualifying for the team we had to all go through the drug testing thing,” said Broxterman. “Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson had just finished their sprints and didn’t know me from anyone. I remember Johnson asking, ‘What do you do?’ I said I just cleared 7-6.5 in the high jump to place second.’

“Now, he had just broken the world record in his event, but he looked at me and said, ‘How do you do that? How does a human jump that high?’ That sort of put it all in perspective that … hey, I did pretty good, too.”

It was just the latest chapter of the most unusual life of Ed Broxterman.

You see, in high school he was ranked as the No. 1 high jumper in the nation after clearing 7-foot-3 at B&B Baileyville High School. But at the regional meet, he slipped three times on a wet surface and didn’t make it to the state track meet even though he was the nation’s top jumper.

It was at the 1996 Games where K-Staters Kenny Harrison won the triple jump, Steve Fritz was fourth in the decathlon, plus Connie Teaberry joined Broxterman in the high jump competition.

Need another reminder that even small towns in Kansas can produce Olympians? Well, fast-forward to 2008 when the co-western Kansas communities of Rozell and Burdette provided the dirt roads where Christian Smith did his training.

“Rozell might be 150 people and Burdette may be over 200. They are the two towns that made up Pawnee Heights High School,” said Smith. “I grew up in Burdette, but then lived outside of Rozell, so I count them both as my home.”

K-State was also Smith’s home where he was a five-time All-American and a NCAA champion. He won the NCAA indoor mile in 2006 and was an outdoor All-American in the 1,500 meters. He became the collegiate record holder in the indoor 1,000 meters and set school standards in the 1,000 indoor, plus the outdoor 800 and 1,500 meters from 2003 through 2006.

But an Olympian?

Chuckling, Smith said, “I came in ranked 29th out of 30. After I made the finals, one website said that anyone can make the team except me. Yes, most people were pretty surprised.”

Today, Smith is part of what most track experts call “…the most dramatic race in trials history” as the bearded runner literally dove across the finish line ahead of Khadevis Robinson, who was the prohibitive favorite to win the 800 meters.

“I wasn't even sure if I was third or fourth. I didn’t think a lean would be enough, so I dove,” Smith said. “I didn't want to face the possibility of coming so close and not making the team, so I laid there on my stomach for about 15 seconds.”

Smith’s time of 1:45.47 was .06 seconds faster than Robinson for the third and final spot in the 800 meters at the Beijing Olympics.

“It means more today than four years ago,” said Smith. “I would go home and see signs and see what it meant to my parents, extended family and community. So many people said they were literally yelling at the TV.

“I used to think the World Championships and the Olympics were the same, but I now truly know what the Olympics mean to people of the United States,” said Smith. “I hope I’m an example to young kids that dreams can be realized.”

On the track at the Bird’s Nest of the Beijing Olympics, Smith did not make it to the semifinals, but that does not take away from the experience of the Opening Ceremonies, shaking hands with the President, and meeting the likes of swimmer Michael Phelps and NBA star LeBron James.

“I was like a little kid with him,” said Smith. “I shook that huge hand and he put his arm around me. He was just massive.”

Massive, like the performances in the Olympic Trials by Broxterman in 1996 and Smith in 2008.

We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact either Mark Janssen or Kansas State Assistant AD for Communications Kenny Lannou.