‘They may have heard us in Japan’: Jason Smyth’s family celebrate sixth gold medal

Derry man wins T13 100m final at Paralympics by one-hundredth of a second

 

When the fastest paralympian on the planet is poised to take a gold medal, Jason Smyth’s family knows he has it in the bag about halfway into the race.

This time was different.

Huddled together around the television screen at the family home in the village of Eglinton, Co Derry, on Sunday, they held their breath for what seemed like an eternity at the photo finish in Tokyo.

“We weren’t quite sure until they announced it. Then we all lost our minds,” Jason’s wife, Elise, said.

“When they said ‘once again Jason Smyth’ there was just uproar. Of momentous proportions. I think they may have heard us in Japan, if they were listening close enough.”

After a mostly sleepless night, Elise, mother of the couple’s two children Evie (5) and Lottie (3), got up at 4:30am to join Jason’s parents, Lloyd and Diane, to watch the heats.

The speed of Algeria’s Skander Djamil Athmani – who Jason beat by one-hundredth of a second to win the T13 100m final at the Paralympics and claim his sixth gold medal – had them on tenterhooks right up until he crossed the line at the final.

“I was nervous, thinking if he does bring home a silver that I need to work it up and make sure the girls know that it is still a great achievement,” said Elise.

“But I didn’t have to. We got to scream about Daddy winning once again. I don’t think they comprehend it to the full extent. They know Daddy runs and, according to them, Daddy always wins. He didn’t prove them wrong today.”

Extended family

About 20 of the extended family kitted out in Team Ireland’s green – including grannies, cousins and all of Jason’s nieces and nephews, ranging from under 12 months to nine years of age – packed into the house for the big event.

When the dramatic finish was finally called, a “raucous scream” went up.

“It was just a mixture of relief and pure joy,” said Elise.

“I’m American, so I’m always kind of loud and excited, but to see Jason’s parents and siblings, who are a bit more reserved, to just watch the absolute joy and happiness on their faces was amazing.

“I’m so proud of him. He has worked so hard and this was probably the hardest year of his career, not just with Covid restrictions but injuries, and he is getting on in years, so it has been a hard year. It makes it feel worth it, all of it. We are just so happy it has turned out the way it has.”

Struggling to contain his emotion, father Lloyd Smyth said his feet had yet to hit the ground.

“I think maybe tonight, when everything settles down and we watch it again. Maybe then it will sink in,” he said. They had been “biting their nails” since the heats.

“We were a wee bit worried, you know. The Algerian guy, with the time he had run. We were a wee bit apprehensive.”

Even at the finish, Lloyd said he thought Jason had “lost it on the line”.

“Because they both had green shirts on them. I just thought ‘well, he lost it, he ran a good race’.

“Then Jason made some kind of reaction, and I knew he’d won it. I just couldn’t believe it. I had really geared myself up that it just might not happen this time.

“When you think the worst, then the best happens – it is brilliant.”

Leading tributes, President Michael D Higgins described Smyth’s latest win as “exceptional”.

“My warmest congratulations to Jason Smyth on winning a fourth successive Paralympic 100m gold medal in Tokyo today – an extraordinary achievement by an exceptional athlete,” the President said.