Jason Smyth completes sprint double to claim second gold in Berlin
Derry sprinter pockets 19th gold but believes lack of recognition a continuing issue
Ireland’s Jason Smyth on his way to winning gold in the T13 100m at the World Para Athletics European Championships at the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark in Berlin. Photograph: Luc Percival/Sportsfile
It is by his own admission a quite remarkable winning streak, Jason Smyth now 13 years undefeated on the international stage, pocketing gold medal number 19 at the European Para-Athletics Championships in Berlin on Thursday night, with another record to boot.
If this was any other sport there might at least be a welcome home at the airport, only Smyth doesn’t let that bother him going about his business of winning gold medals: what bothers him is that Para-Athletics sport doesn’t always get the recognition he feels it deserves, especially outside the Paralympics stage held once every four years.
After adding the T13 100 metres title to go with the 200m won on Tuesday evening, Smyth made his way to another medal ceremony at Berlin’s Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark, already looking forward to what will be his third Paralympics in Tokyo 2020.
The motivation will always be there, and at 31 Smyth believes he can run faster again. He also believes recognition for the sport hasn’t necessarily kept pace with his achievements.
“It’s not about me, because I’m just one person within my sport,” Smyth told The Irish Times. “It’s about the sport not getting the recognition. I’m just the one who has been most successful, but you tell me of someone who has won 19 gold medals, someone who is unbeaten in the major championships their whole career, for 13 years. If that was any other sport, if I was a boxer or a golfer or if I played tennis, I think you would be known everywhere for the things you have done, accomplished. People would be shouting from the rooftops.
“That’s not me feeling bad about it, or being negative, it’s just being honest, when you look at the facts of it. All I can continue to do is win medals, be successful, and when asked that question be honest about it, and hopefully over time that changes. Like a lot of things in sport, it takes time to lead the way and change things.”
After another perfectly executed race, his winning time of 10.66 seconds, into a slight headwind, improved the championship record he had set in the heats earlier in the day. Adding to his T13 200m, the category for visually impaired, it brings his championship gold medal ally to 19: that’s five Paralympics gold medals and another eight at the World Championships (including one indoors, from 2005), this latest win his sixth gold at European level, even though he missed the last championships, two years ago.
Mateusz Michalski from Poland, the only other sub-11 second man in the final, and the defending champion, was second in 10.99, but never got close to Smyth.
With wife Elise he has two young daughters, Lottie and Evie, and together, he says, they provide any additional motivation required to stay at the top after 13 years. Smyth’s first gold medal goes back to the 2005 European Para Athletics championships in Finland, where Smyth won 100m gold while still a schoolboy Limavady Grammar School in Derry.
“Major championships are all about performing, and crossing the line first,” he said. “And also where I am this year, compared to last year, I feel I’m building again, with a view to the next two years, running faster again, and Tokyo 2020.
“But I need to go faster, there are new athletes on the scene, the event is really heating up, and it’s up to me to find something extra. And I’ve had some niggles over the last few years. People don’t really see what goes on behind the scenes, what athletes are dealing with.
“The motivation is always there, but changes too. I realise I am coming towards the end of my career, and I want make the most of it, continue to be my best. But of course family gives you a different perspective on life, my two daughters, and I want to share these moments with them, before it’s over.
“And what an honour too, to compete for your country, win medals, sometimes in front of lots of people, sometimes in front of a few. But the motivation is there to go faster again, and get that medal tally up to 20, 21 . . .
“It’s been an incredible journey, and it’s not until I’m done that I will really sit back and appreciate it, because I’m already thinking about next year, and I am just grateful for all the opportunities that I’ve got.”
Smyth’s second gold brings Ireland’s medal tally in Berlin to seven. Earlier in the day 18-year-old Jordan Lee from Killarney, making his championship debut, won bronze in the T47 high jump, with a best height of 1.75 metres.