By Katie Branham | Oct. 09, 2018, 10:13 p.m. (ET)

Jerome Smith competes in weightlifting on Oct. 9, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Jerome Smith didn’t have the ending he hoped for at the Youth Olympic Games. On his final lift he attempted more weight than he’s ever lifted before in the clean & jerk, and he didn’t make it. While fourth place in his 69 kg. class wasn’t how he wanted to end the night, for Smith, this is just the beginning of his weightlifting career.

Smith has dreams of competing on the Olympic stage again as a senior, and this experience has only motivated him more.

“I can say one thing, I’m a Youth Olympian and that is really cool,” Smith said. “You know, I took a loss here, but next time I’ll be on the podium.”

Olympian Morghan King knows the sting of a fourth-place finish. At the 2014 Pan American Championships, she was fourth. At the 2015 Pan American Games, she was fourth again. King was on hand in the Europe Pavilion as one of the invited Athlete Role Models of the Summer Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018.

“I know he’s going to be bummed,” King said. “but he’ll look back on it and know that this was a stepping stone for him in the future.

“For Jerome, this is the beginning of his weightlifting career, and to know that this is possible and having the Youth Olympic Games here is a really big deal.”

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While Jerome moved with a calm and calculated presence on the stage before his lifts, it was hard not to notice one spectator in the stands clutching the rail, cheering him on and shouting encouragement every time Smith walked back and forth from the warm-up area. That would be Smith’s club Coach Jimmy Duke who runs Lift for Life, an after-school program in St. Louis.

“He fought his butt off and he made his first five lifts,” Duke said. “Warm-ups didn’t go great, and the plan got adjusted. Instead of getting upset, he fought, kept his head down and went forward. It came down to the last lift, and that’s all you can ask.”

The bond between Duke and Smith is evident. Duke traveled to Buenos Aires not only for competition, but also to stay longer just to make sure his young athlete isn’t homesick.

“To be here to see him at the Youth Olympic Games means the world to me,” Duke said.

And for Smith, he knows his life might be different if it weren’t for Duke.

“My coach Jimmy was here in the stands,” Smith said. “And you know he changed my life. Before I met him and was lifting weights, I used to be a troublemaker. But he got me in the gym every day, and now I’m at the Youth Olympics.”

While he didn’t stand on the podium, his experience at the Youth Olympic Games was an even bigger step forward toward his future.