Jason Smyth in events not of his making

Paralympic sport is clean and athletes are proud to be part of the world championships

Paralympic athletes Jason Smyth with Orla Barry and Darragh McDonald at Sandymount Strand, Dublin. Photograph: Sportsfile

Paralympic athletes Jason Smyth with Orla Barry and Darragh McDonald at Sandymount Strand, Dublin. Photograph: Sportsfile


The threadbare reputations of cycling and athletics this week elevated suspicion to the levels of accusation. Because of Chris Froome’s flashing accent of the mountains and Tyson Gay’s positive ‘A’ sample, Jason Smyth, who last trained with Gay in Florida in June, has caught the perfect storm. The Derry man has momentarily found himself in the slipstream of events, none of which are of his own making.

As athletes yesterday prepared to travel to the IPC swimming and athletics championships in Montreal and Lyon, the London 2012 100m and 200m gold medallist found himself batting questions on an issue on which he has no knowledge, the murky side of sprinting.

Smyth was in no mood to elaborate on what he sees as the issue of another athlete. The affairs of others are not his.

“No,” no he says firmly to the question of whether he felt unease or disquiet during his stay in Gay’s camp. “We were there to train get the head down and work hard. Again what people do or don’t do . . . you’re there to do the programme. If you want to know more about what Tyson Gay does, you’ll have to ask Tyson Gay.

“The last time I was out there was the start of June. I spent all winter out there and then I came home. What I’ve known about it or seen about it is just what everybody else has been able to read and that is in newspapers and on websites.

‘Still shocked’
“To be honest I still am shocked about it. But for me I’m four days away from the World Championships. My focus is very much on that. If you get distracted by everything that’s going on . . . you don’t want distraction.”

With eight athletes and six swimmers heading to different venues, a conversation on doping is far from the preferred topic. But as elite Paralympic athletes have, from the beginning, railed against patronising attitudes and demanded serious attention for elite athletes, part of that agreement is more deliberate and sober questions on emotive issues.

Shock may not be an over statement and as a committed Christian Smyth would have seen a like minded soul in America’s fastest member of the Baptist Missionary. Choosing his words he is clear about cheating. A four year or life ban then?

“I feel those that intentionally cheat, without a doubt,” he says. “If you are silly enough to do those things and intentionally go out of your way to do them, you’ve got to face the consequences. You’ve got to ask the question, should they (cheats) ever be there.”

Darragh McDonald, an 18-year-old veteran of two Paralympic Games, his first as a 14-year-old, has more strident views.

The 400m freestyle gold medallist believes that Paralympic sport is wholly clean.

“I’ve never heard of anyone in Paralymic sport doping, especially in Irish circles,” he says. “Paralympic sport is different. Disabilities are different and because of that it’s not as clean cut in general. It’s not like everyone is at one level and can pop a pill and get up a level. That’s why doping is scarce.”

Track and field optimists have been turned to cynics in the past and some may disagree with the teenager’s view as the top end of Paralympic sport is becoming more lucrative.

Oscar Pistorious, prior to his arrest for alleged murder, was worth millions of euro, while the Sky cycling team have learned the lesson of critical mass from the thousand Tour de France lies that went before them.

But nobody can refute the soon to be, maybe, UCD student’s clear view of his guiding principles. A Leaving Cert completed, Montreal’s world event is almost a welcome break from hard work.

“There is always someone who is going to use it (dope), stupid enough to use it. I have no time for any of that,” he says. “I think they’re idiots.

“They’ve ruined the idea of sport and ruined the point of it. It’s beyond racing people. It’s about challenging your own body.”