Smith lands on home soil
LAKE PLACID — Caleb Smith has traveled across the globe helping guide some of the world’s best skeleton racers to the highest heights of glory.
Now Smith is back home in his native Adirondacks ready to assist athletes on the American skeleton team, and he couldn’t be any happier. This week, Smith officially began his job as the USA skeleton team’s technical and development lead coach.
Smith grew up in Lake Placid, started his sliding career on a luge sled and then switched over to skeleton before retiring from racing after the 2010-11 season. With his competitive days behind him, Smith took his skeleton knowledge to teams around the world. He was a small nations coach, had a short run as the head of the Italian team, moved on as assistant for the Australians, and most recently, worked with Great Britain as an elite development coach for the team.
Smith spent three years working with British skeleton athletes. In February, they had a great run at the Winter Olympics in South Korea hauling in three of the six medals up for grabs, including a gold as Lizzy Yarnold successfully defended her women’s Olympic title. Smith left a British team that he described as having a “ton of talent” and is looking to carry some of that success back home to an American squad that has seen struggles over the past few seasons.
“There hasn’t been a real look to the future and that needs to start again,” Smith said. “There needs to be changes, we want to get a very stringent development program in place. We want to bring our athletes to the top level and ready to compete, and eventually, get them to the top of the curve and be able to stay there.”
After Matt Antoine slid to a bronze and the now retired Noelle Pikus Pace won a silver at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the U.S. has had a tough time reaching the podium. The team’s top finishes on the World Cup last season were both seventh-place results turned in by Antoine and veteran Katie Uhlaender, who have both decided to compete for at least one more year.
Smith said bringing USA Skeleton back to the upper realms of the sport will take some time. He’ll be working with head coach Tuffy Latour and has a four-year contract that runs through 2022, the year the Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing, China. Smith added however, the skeleton program is already looking well beyond those games.
“Beijing and beyond, that’s our focus,” Smith said. “Beijing is just a stepping stone in the rebuild. Really, we’re also looking eight years ahead.”
Smith will have many duties as a team coach. Smith is the team’s head of equipment, working with runner and sled designs, he’ll be a driving coach on the World Cup tour, and he will help find and develop younger athletes who will someday be the face of the U.S. Skeleton program.
“I’m doing what I always do, which is coach skeleton,” Smith said. “It’s all about keeping team unity together and keeping purpose. We need to really create a performance culture, and it’s going to be a challenging process.
“A big goal for us is finding a way forward to develop a continuous stream of athletes,” Smith added. “Really for somebody to be a good skeleton athlete, they really have to love the sport. The question is, ‘Where do you find those people?’ There’s a lot of raw talent out there, and our job is to find it.”
After watching his British athletes shine in South Korea, Smith said the timing was right and the desire was strong to return to his home town and coach for his native country. Smith seems to be settling in for a long-term run, both at his new job and living in the place that he has always called home. He’s looking to stay put for a while and has nearly completed building his new home in Jay. Smith said by putting down roots, he can also continue pursing his interest in the wine business.
“After the games I kind of had some time to step away, and I’ve been gravitating back here,” Smith said. “I’ve lapped the world four times in the past 20 months or so, I needed to be closer to home, and I was able to focus on building the house. I was really happy with the direction of skeleton in this country when I took the job. They want to invest in development and the future, and that lined up with my heart.
“I like to create taking a blank slate, and create something that has a lasting legacy,” Smith said. “A new house, wine, athletes, there are similarities. I jam out on the long-term game. I’m looking forward to be able to coach American athletes again. Being back in Lake Placid, I’m really excited to be back where that national, hometown pride is a big deal.”