Announcing has always been a passion of Donald Smith’s.
“In my spare time, if anyone listened, I’d just be practicing commentary, whether track and field, football, cricket. That was just fun for me,” explains Smith, 31. “It was something I wanted to do, something that I loved, so eventually I thought an opportunity would come.”
In July, the Jamaican woke one morning to find several friends had tagged him in a tweet inviting entries for the IAAF’s announcer competition for the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018. “Right up my alley,” he thought.
Smith, who works full time as an information systems auditor at an accountancy firm, is not one to waste an opportunity. His first forays into stadium announcing came in 2010, while he was working as a field marshal at a college meet in Jamaica.
“I heard the announcing, and I was like, I know I can do that!” he recalls. He stayed in touch with some of the organisers, who knew his passion, and was eventually invited to announce at a low-key sports day at the same university. People were impressed. “Little did I know it, but there was some talk within the athletics circle that there was a new announcer coming up.”
A shift at a prep school meet soon followed, and within a couple of years he was on the announcing team for Champs – the most high profile inter-schools meeting in world sport. Since then, he has held the mic at the Kingston World Challenge, Racers Grand Prix and senior and junior national championships, making Smith’s a recognisable voice on public address systems across Jamaica.
Next stop: world
The IAAF competition – requiring entrants to commentate on either Felix Sanchez’s gold medal run at the London 2012 Olympics, or Fabian Murer’s world title-winning clearance in Daegu in 2011 – was Smith’s break out opportunity.
“My love for track and field in general pushed me to think, ‘This is my chance, my opportunity to do something bigger than what I have been doing’,” he says. He chose the Sanchez race, believing “it was something I thought I could add my voice to”, but remembering – crucially – that “any information that I knew after race, I couldn’t factor that: it had to be like I was there.”
Smith was on to a winner. A track nut who can wax on athletics history like the best of them, his assured performance with the mic saw him selected as the winner from the hundreds of entries that flooded in, including from former stars of the sport.
“For once I really had no words to describe how I felt!” he says of winning. Booking the time off work was easy. “My boss is a good man. He knows that I love this. And when I told him about the opportunity he said, ‘You’re going, right?!’”
His friends – the ones who had had to put up with the incessant commentary of every sporting event they attended with Smith – were equally supportive, as has been the wider online athletics community.
“It has been great,” he says. As a matter of fact a lot have reached out, giving pointers, encouragement, go out there relax and be myself. Just be me. That encouragement has been great. It hasn’t just been immediate friends – people from all over the world have reached out and said congratulations.”
The dream and the team
In Buenos Aires, Smith found that there was a significant step up from the meets where he’d cut his teeth. The role at a championship meet is not simply to announce, but to function as a vital cog in a two-dozen production team that holds each session together. He also found himself sharing a room with Argentinians, Germans, Greeks, Chinese, Britons – any pronunciation slip-ups would be pounced upon. However difficult, the support of the team enabled him to move up with little difficulty.
“It is a team effort,” he insists. “You will have seen at the end of today, the applause, the high fives, because we had a good day and everyone made it happen. So that is fantastic.”
Donald’s top three announcing tips
1. Plan and research. You’ve got to be ready at all times.
2. Learn how to take constructive criticism, and how to use that to improve what to do.
3. Never be too hard on yourself. You’ll have good days, you’ll have not so good days. It’s how you recover from those not-so-good ones that will help you be a better professional, whatever you do.
Smith says he tried to replicate the style of the pros he most admires. “Steve Cram is one [hero],” he says. “Katherine Merry, I love her voice. In Jamaica we have Bobby Fray – his brother is an Olympian from the 60s, Michael Fray.
“I like their voices and how they capture the audience. It can be on TV, and I’ll be in another room – or I’ll be listening on the radio – and they’ll still capture what is happening. That is what I try to do. Hopefully I’m on the right track.”
The track has already taken Smith to the Olympic stage, if only a developmental level. His dreams are no less lofty: “Olympic announcer. Definitely. World Championships, Olympics. That’s the aim.”
His profile has been given a welcome bump by his competition win and confident delivery in Buenos Aires. But it’s just the start for Smith, who hopes to take his voice to the world.
“I know that I’m going to do well, and get where I want,” he adds. “I still have to be humble and understand that there are a lot of people looking up to me to be the best that I can be. I can’t disappoint them.”
Thomas Byrne for the IAAF