She had become the fastest woman in the world, and the third-fastest in history.
“She was lit up,” said John Smith, her coach and sprint guru. “Her whole aura just changed. I saw something transformed . . . It was remarkable.”
The time, 0.16 of a second faster than her personal best, validated the mentally trying, occasionally humiliating work she had endured under Smith for the previous year. From the first day Jeter arrived to Smith’s Los Angeles-based professional running group late in 2008, Smith used novel, state-of-the-art video technology to bolster a teaching program he had refined for years. He unapologetically tore up her technique.
Smith and a virtual assistant — a digital model of Jeter who could simulate world-record speeds — forced her, in essence, to re-learn how to run at age 29.
But she did not truly comprehend the majesty of the science of sprinting until she crossed the finish line at the jammed stadium in Thessalonika. In that race, Jeter experienced, for the first time in her life, the soaring ease of technical transcendence.
“It took a while,” she said before a recent weekday training session at West Los Angeles College in Culver City. “It didn’t happen overnight. [Before], I was running age group, like a kid. I was just out there running, all over the place, my head bobbing, arms moving from side to side. Now, I look like a professional.”
In that 10.67 seconds, Jeter executed some 50 strides almost perfectly. It was a perfection she could actually feel. The time has been surpassed only by late world-record holder Florence-Griffith Joyner, who ran a 10.49 at the U.S. Olympic trials in 1988, and Marion Jones, who achieved 10.65 in 1998 but later admitted using steroids.
Smith watched the race in Thessalonika on a television monitor from the bowels of the stadium. When he heard the time, he started running. He sprinted through the stadium’s underbelly to get to Jeter, whose raw emotional celebration continued long after the race.
“I didn’t think,” she said. “The gun clicked, and I executed. . . It just came second nature. I looked at the clock and I just fell to the ground. I’m crying and I’m screaming, because . . . I actually did it.”
A week later at a race in Shanghai, Jeter ran even faster, winning in 10.64, a time that made her the second-fleetest woman ever, behind only the legend known as Flo-Jo.
‘This is a job’
At Los Angeles’s Bishop Montgomery High, Jeter displayed blazing natural speed. By the time she was a senior, she had run 11.7 in the 100. At Division II Cal State Dominguez Hills, she became the first athlete from her school to qualify for the Olympic trials, an event that introduced her to the exclusive world of elite sprinting in 2004.