Janell Carson


What Janell Smith accomplished on a track was remarkable:

* Olympian at the 1964 Tokyo Games as a 17-year-old from Fredonia.

* Set the American record in 400 meters of 54.7 seconds in the Olympic Trials semifinals.

* Set the American record in the 220-yard dash as a15-year-old.

* Tied the American indoor record for the 70-yard hurdles as a high school sophomore in 1963.

No wonder a week after her 18th birthday on May 10, 1965, she was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

But what's most remarkable about this pioneer of women's athletics is not so much what she did, but that she did it while having limited training opportunities. There were no coaches overseeing her workouts.

Indeed, those lack of opportunities, on top of injuries and illness, led her to give up her career by age 19.

Today, she is Janell Carson. The marks she set so long ago still rank among the best for Kansas' prep girls, including second in the 400 meters and fourth in the 200.

She and her husband, Mike, have lived in Parsons the last 20 years. She retired as first-grade teacher at nearby Galesburg only last year.

They have three adult sons and 10 grandchildren.

Janell will proudly tell you that one of her granddaughters, third-grader Ellie Carson, can outrun the boys at school.

How fitting.

Because there wasn't a girls track team during her days at Fredonia High, she usually trained alone. Sometimes arrangements were made for a 440-yard relay team of boys to run against her while she ran the open quarter.

Those were pre-Title IX days and opportunities for women in college athletics, particularly in track, were limited to only a handful of schools. Carson chose to go to Emporia State, which didn't have a women's track team.

"If Janell had the opportunities that girls have now, she may have been an Olympic champion," Bob Timmons, a long-time coach at East High and Kansas, told The Eagle during an interview ago for a story on Carson in July 2004. "She was a great talent."

Indeed, during her speech at the Hall of Fame banquet, Carson said she will talk about the opportunities girls have now in track.

"I hope I inspired some girls to take up sports, not just track," she said.

—Rick Plumlee