Smith making his own mark as a Middletown distance runner

Middletown High School cross country runner Conant Smith is one of the top runners in the GMC as a sophomore. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Middletown High School cross country runner Conant Smith is one of the top runners in the GMC as a sophomore. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Conant Smith has heard the comparisons that he could be the next Jeff See.

The Middletown High School sophomore smiles at the thought people would even mention him in the same breath as the former Middies standout, but he won’t let that idea add any pressure to his own cross country and track career.

See won a national championship in the mile and won six individual state titles — four in track and two in cross country — at Middletown before graduating in 2005 and going on to become a six-time All-American in both sports at Ohio State University.

Smith, who has met See a few times, is currently the No. 2-ranked runner in the Greater Miami Conference but already is recording faster times than his running idol did at this stage.

“We are two different runners, two different people, but it’s pretty cool to be thought of like that,” said Smith, who once did an eight-mile run around town with See and teammate Chris Parsons. “I just never thought I would ever be that level runner and what he’s turned out to be. My third race into freshman year I beat the freshman record, and that was his, so I started to think maybe it is possible.”

Smith, whose older brother Cole is headed to the University of Cincinnati as a kicker for football, only began running the summer before eighth grade to condition for soccer, but it didn’t take long for him to develop a passion for it or to realize he had some natural ability. He won his first middle school cross country race and ended up quitting soccer to focus on running.

Three races into his freshman season last year, Smith clocked a time of 15 minutes, 43 seconds at the Miamisburg Invitational to break See’s best freshman time of 15:46. Unfortunately, a severe stress fracture ended his season before he could run another race.

“That put me down a lot, but I just put that behind me and trained all winter and came out for track,” Smith said.

Smith finished fourth in the mile at the GMC track championships last spring and placed second at districts. This summer, he ran about 40 miles a week to prepare for what he hoped would be a more full-filling cross country season.

So far, Smith has placed in the top three at all four meets he’s raced in this season. He won the Bob Schul Invitational with a time of 15:59.50 on Aug. 27, then won the Miamisburg Invitational with a personal-record 15:38.90 on Sept. 3 before taking third and second the next two races.

“He has a God-gifted talent,” Middies coach David Fultz said. “It makes me sick when people have that and don’t want to work, but he has it and works his tail off. He does a lot on his own and he doesn’t hesitate. His work ethic is unbelievable.”

Smith, who has grown six inches since eighth grade, hopes to run a 15:20 by the end of the season and win a state championship by senior year.

Fultz looks forward to seeing how Smith progresses over the next couple of years and wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up on a similar path to See.

“Jeff was physically mature as a 15-year-old freshman, but Conant is just starting to grow,” Fultz said. “He hasn’t fully matured yet, but I expect him to get better and better and stronger and stronger. The sky is the limit for him.

“For me, it’s a blessing. Runners like that don’t come around too often.”