CARBONDALE -- Southern Illinois University assistant track coach John Smith can take some of the credit for his wife's success in the discus, but not picking where they were going to get married in December of 1990.
John Smith, an eight-time conference champion thrower for the Salukis, and Connie Price-Smith, a former Saluki basketball player who went on to qualify for four Olympics, were originally supposed to get married at the Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. Located right on Las Vegas Boulevard, the historic chapel opened in 1951 and has hosted the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Michael Jordan, Britney Spears and Bruce Willis, among others.
But it also features a drive-thru wedding chapel, the Tunnel of Love, and Price-Smith balked at getting hitched there just days before the ceremony.
The couple switched to the Circus Circus Hotel and Casino, notified all their attendees, and will celebrate their 25th anniversary later this year. As their 24th Valentine's Day arrives today as a married couple, Smith can still remember the scene they made walking through the casino after the wedding.
"I remember her walking through the casino in her dress and everybody wanting to touch her," he said. "The gamblers, because it's good luck to touch a new bride."
The two met in the spring of 1984, when Price-Smith came out for track after her eligibility with basketball ended. A two-time state champion shot putter in high school, she originally planned to do both when she came to SIU, but got overwhelmed by her hoops schedule. Smith was just finishing up his collegiate throwing career, which included setting the school record in the indoor and outdoor shot put. Both records were broken last year by current Saluki Josh Freeman, who the Smiths now coach, John as the throws coach and Connie in her 14th season as the head coach.
And make no mistake, being married to the head track coach does more damage than deliver perks.
"I'm definitely the assistant coach," John said. "She kicks me around more than any other assistant coach. By far. A lot of times the other assistant coaches feel sorry for me."
John does have one ace up his sleeve with his wife. Price-Smith wouldn't have been a four-time Olympian if John didn't push her to pursue the discus, which was how she made the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona.
"She hadn't thrown the discus in high school because one of her friends threw it and she didn't want to beat her, so I got her throwing discus, and I remember the first meet," John said. "It was in North Carolina, I believe, and she put two in the cage, and one flopped out and went 98 feet, and I remember that discus. She got it back, and she threw it at my feet and said 'I ain't ever gonna throw this (expletive deleted) thing again!' And I said 'Yeah you will.' Two years later, she was national champ."
The two work well together despite being perceived by some as an odd couple. Physical differences aside, Smith can be found most days out on the practice field in his chair. Depending on the weather, he'll have his old bucket hat outside, and be the happiest man on the planet. He watches Fox News and the History Channel, neither of which his wife can stand, and would like to visit Alaska someday.
Price-Smith likes John Grisham books and warm weather.
"It's funny, because you look at them, and they're married, and you go, 'What?'" junior thrower DeAnna Price (no relation) said. "I didn't know when I first signed up, but they work really well together. They're a great team. Coach Connie is such an inspiration, and coach John really has that drive and compassion. They both work well together, and, it's just their gears, and they work, and they work. They put their time, sweat and blood into this program."
Price-Smith said they make their marriage work by, sometimes, taking time to be apart. They will spend today with the Salukis in West Lafayette, Indiana, for the Fred Wilt Invitational, but may split up this summer for a few days.
"Being able to spend time together, but also able to do things on your own, too, and I think that's one of the things we do," she said. "I go on vacations with my friends. One of my girlfriends, and people I competed against, and just being able to be comfortable with your partner and being able to do that kind of stuff."