Jason Smyth: ‘I just know that what it takes to win a medal will be faster this time’

Irish sprinter will carry huge expectation with him at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo

Jason Smyth will be looking to win a fourth straight gold medal in the T13 100m at the Tokyo Paralympics. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Jason Smyth will be looking to win a fourth straight gold medal in the T13 100m at the Tokyo Paralympics. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Jason Smyth is a prophet in his own land in sporting terms, recognisable every four years, a brief spike in interest that subsides within 48 hours.

The 34-year-old Derry native is a phenomenon by any yardstick, 20 gold medals at major championships over a 15-year sprinting career but the suffix ‘para’ before the word athlete means that he is often overlooked. If the public was asked to vote on the top 50 Irish sports stars of the last 20 years would he make the putative list?

Smyth might argue that he wouldn’t, that the visually impaired sprinter would be invisible in any discussion or debate. There is a strong argument that he has a higher sporting profile outside of Ireland.

Next Sunday the man dubbed ‘the fastest Paralympian on the planet’ will try and win a fourth successive T13 100 metres title at the Paralympics and his sixth gold medal to go with the 100 and 200 metres doubles in Beijing (2008) and London (2012) and the 100 metres – there was no 200m – from Rio five years ago.

Nine world titles, six European, the world and Paralympic records at 100 and 200 metres, he reached the semi-final of the able-bodied 2010 European Championships and ran 10.22 to qualify to run against the best sprinters for the 2011 World Championship in Daegu.

Experience is extremely valuable in these instances. It is easier to step back and see the bigger picture and to stay patient

Smyth carries expectation lightly, both his own and that of others. He is phlegmatic about the impositions enforced by Covid-19 on his preparations. “Lockdown has changed the way that you would normally prepare and plan for the year ahead. I would tend to be away a lot, travelling in warmer climates so that has been a significant challenge.

“In the first lockdown the support around athletes was closed and tracks were closed; everything has been impacted in some way. You can always look at the negative aspect of that but the flipside is that there is not one right way to run fast. It’s learning to try and adapt, be flexible and find new or other ways to go about the same thing.

“I haven’t been away as much as I normally would. I was in camp in Tenerife for a couple of weeks around January/February and was then in Spain in July for a couple of weeks. Other than that I haven’t been away as initially planned and haven’t competed as much as initially planned.”

Ireland’s Jason Smyth on the way to wining gold in the T13 100m final at the Rio Paralympics in 2016. Photograph: Alexandre Loureiro/Getty Images
Ireland’s Jason Smyth on the way to wining gold in the T13 100m final at the Rio Paralympics in 2016. Photograph: Alexandre Loureiro/Getty Images

Maturity has taught him not to sweat the things beyond his control. He explained: “Experience is extremely valuable in these instances. It is easier to step back and see the bigger picture and to stay patient. It’s very easy to get caught up thinking that I need to race in May; whereas when you step back and look at it, I need to race and run fast at the end of August and nothing else actually matters.

“It’s all about gearing towards what that one target is. I think it does help a lot. You are just able to deal with situations better because you have had to deal with situations over time; you know your body well.

“There is a team around an athlete, coaches on track, physio, S&C and the real skill is how that team communicates and works together to know when the right times to push and then step back, the right time to compete and not compete. That is extremely important.”

Smyth ran 10.64 to win in Rio and slightly quicker in a couple of recent competitive outings. He admitted: “I definitely think that you are going to have to run quicker in Tokyo than you did for medals in Rio. There is no doubt in my event the standard has moved on. There are new guys coming along that have run quicker.

Things outside my control I don’t waste time or energy thinking about. I tend to think about what I can do and I can influence at the end of the day

“What will win it? I don’t know. I just know that what it takes to win a medal will be faster this time. I don’t know if I am happy with where I am at, you’re always nit picking and looking for more. I feel I am in a good enough position. All the work is done, it is about that fine tuning and then just executing on the day.”

Smyth understands that the tide of his success can lift all boats and hopefully for a longer period than a couple of weeks every four years.

“The responsibility for things to continue to improve falls to the likes of myself and the other athletes because success brings attention and awareness and it provides a platform to maybe discuss some of these things that make people more aware. If we don’t have success and continue to have success then what follows becomes less significant.

“Personality-wise I am pretty chilled. I tend not to over-think things. Things outside my control I don’t waste time or energy thinking about. I tend to think about what I can do and I can influence at the end of the day.

“I am an athlete, the one running on the track and that’s my sphere of what I can control, impact and change. That’s what I focus on. Everything else that comes around it is noise, especially around this time of the year or at the Games.”

It’s been a golden philosophy that’s served him well and will hopefully facilitate another golden moment on Sunday.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.