Paralympian champion Jason Smyth, the man they couldn’t catch, retires

In an astonishing career, the Derry athlete competed for more than 15 years and remained unbeaten

With the retirement of sprinter Jason Smyth comes an indelible career epitaph. He will always be remembered as the man they could not catch.

The Irish Paralympian announced his retirement from athletics on Wednesday at the age of 35, stepping away from competitive running unbeaten in the 100m and 200m in a career that reaches back to the European Championships of 2005.

Along the way the sprinter won six Paralympic titles, which included 100m and 200m doubles at the Beijing and London Games in 2008 and 2012.

Include nine world titles and six European gold medals and the unerring high level of performance from the Derry man has left a staggering legacy of achievement.


“Probably the thing I’m most proud about is the fact I was able to go unbeaten throughout that time,” said Smyth.

Along with South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius, he was also selected to run in the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, essentially in the same competition as Usain Bolt.

Smyth finished fifth in the preliminary round in the 100m in 10.57 with Pistorious becoming the first amputee to win a non-disabled world track medal in the 4X400m relay.

Before that Smyth had become the first Paralympic athlete to compete at a European Championships, when he reached the 100m semi-finals in Barcelona in 2010.

While he had hopes of representing Ireland at both the Paralympics and Olympic Games at London 2012, his 100m PB from the previous year fell an agonising 0.04 seconds outside the Olympic standard. He made do with defending both of his Paralympic titles.

Born with perfect vision, it was around the age of nine that a hereditary condition known as Stargardt’s Disease began to cause Smyth’s sight to deteriorate.

By then he had shown natural speed and had won an Irish school’s title. Undeterred, his coach at the time Stephen Maguire then realised he would be eligible to compete in Paralympic competition.

In 2005 Smyth won his first European Championship in Finland with gold medals in the 100m and 200m T13 class. All of Smyth’s medals were won in T12 and T13 events.

T12 is for runners with a visual impairment, where vision is constricted to a radius of less than five degrees and/or the ability to recognise a moving object at a distance of one metre.

In T13, vision is constricted to a radius of less than twenty degrees, and/or the ability to recognise a tennis-ball sized object at a maximum of five metres.

The following year Smyth won his first World Championship gold medal in the Netherlands and after that they didn’t stop coming until his final outing at the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

“I think now is the right time for me to step away from competitive Paralympic Sport,” said Smyth. “I lived and fulfilled the dream and now I hope to support the next generation of para-athletes on their journey.

“I have loved my time with Team Ireland and I have had many incredible memories that I will really treasure from my time as an athlete.”

However, he will not be entirely lost to Irish athletics and will take up the role of strategy manager with Paralympics Ireland.

“I feel that I have a lot to offer thanks to my experiences as an athlete and as someone that has been in the Paralympic and Disability sporting environment since my youth,” explained Smyth. “I can’t wait to start this new stage of my career and giving back to the sport that has meant so much to me.”

Smyth is from the small Derry village of Eglinton, formerly known as Muff and is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2022 New Year Honours for services to Paralympic athletics and the sporting community in Northern Ireland.

The Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin, also paid tribute to the extraordinary career.

“To have one of the world’s top athletes come from these shores is an immense achievement and we have been truly privileged to watch him perform at such a high level for well over a decade,” said the Minister.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times