TV View: Jason Smyth soldiers on as golden song remains the same

Derry sprinter’s brilliant championship career sees Amhrán na bhFiann get yet another airing

Ireland’s Jason Smyth celebrates on the podium with his gold medal after defending his T13 100m final at the Tokyo Paralympics. Photograph:  Christopher Jue/Getty Images

Ireland’s Jason Smyth celebrates on the podium with his gold medal after defending his T13 100m final at the Tokyo Paralympics. Photograph: Christopher Jue/Getty Images

 

You know the way when you really like a tune, but then you hear it so often it kind of turns you off? Come Sunday in Tokyo, you’d be wondering if Jason Smyth was beginning to feel the same way about Amhrán na bhFiann. “This is the 21st time he has heard that anthem in his career in a major championship,” as RTÉ’s Will Downing told us after the Derry man stood atop a podium yet again. His sixth Paralympic gold medal. Sixteen years unbeaten. Some man.

The only down side to this staggering record is that Evie (five) and Lottie (three) Smyth now believe that life is just one unending triumph.

“What was it like for the children,” Daráine Mulvihill asked Jason’s wife Elise, their kids having just watched the race back home in Derry. “I’m sure they’re at an age now where they understand and know that’s their dad?”

“They understand it’s daddy,” she replied, “they understand that daddy always wins.”

You couldn’t but think of the contrast between Evie and Lottie’s sporting-life-experiences thus far and that of, say, Australian Chad Perris, one of their da’s rivals in the T13 100m final. “He’s a Fulham fan,” said Will, “but someone has to be.”

In fairness, Chad really had no choice, his great -grandfather having played for the London club back in the 1930s, and if it’s true that you learn more from your [favourite English football club’s] defeats, then Chad should be dripping in gold any day soon.

For now, though, it’s our Jason who is weighed down in gold after beating Algeria’s Skander Djamil Athmani by one-hundredth of a second. “A nose hair,” as Joanne O’Riordan described the gap between the pair.

You had a notion after Smyth’s chat with Darren Frehill that this one had been the most emotional of them all, injuries and Covid-related matters resulting in him not seeing Elise, Evie and Lottie since July 10th, and, at times, leaving him wondering if he’d ever make it to Tokyo at all.

The chat with Elise was a reminder, lest we’d forgotten (and we usually do), of the toll the elite sporting life can have on families, the sacrifices they have to make to accommodate the ambition of their gifted loved ones.

When Daráine asked Elise if Jason had Paris 2024 in mind, Elise rolled her eyes in a ‘God almighty, I hope not’ kind of way. But: “He’s talking about it . . . I’m not sure I could survive another three years,” she said.

At least they had gold as a reward for all they’ve given up. Spare a thought for high jumper Jordan Lee who finished ninth in his Tokyo contest and was gutted about it. He only took up the sport three and a half years ago. In that time? “I’ve jumped 9,090 metres, to be exact, which is over the height of Mount Everest. I’ve lifted a combined weight of 212,000 kilos, which is six Boeing aircrafts,” he told RTÉ. “I am going to give myself a bit of props for once, even though it didn’t go my way.”

Which adds to the argument that we shouldn’t just focus on Olympic/Paralympic medals, instead giving a bit more thought to the torturous routes these athletes take to even get there.

But, yeah, okay, medals are lovely. Hello Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal, ye ledges.

A silver in the 3,000m individual pursuit in a velodrome when Ireland has no velodrome, which makes them a little like Dutch mountain climbers reaching the summit first. “We have roads, though,” said Eve, so she was hopeful of repeating their Rio heroics when the road events kick off. If there were boreen races, we’d be laughin’.

The contest of the weekend, though, took place at Croke Park on Saturday, a bruising battle that went to extra-time, both sides left exhausted and a touch bloodied at its conclusion. Whether Pat Spillane or Seán Cavanagh won, well, that’s up to you.

If you’d told us in, say, February 2020, that two RTÉ pundits would have a highly heated debate ahead of an All-Ireland semi-final about vaccinations, we’d have said ‘huh?’

The gist was that Pat conceded that Kerry are cute hoors, but that Tyrone had out-cute-hoored them in the build-up to the game, the insinuation being that they weren’t as Covid-impacted as they claimed.

“There was no Covid case with the Cork hurlers! There was no Covid case with the Kerry camp!”

“Jesus, ye’re all great, like,” said Seán.

And on it rumbled. “If it’s as tense out there as it is up here, it’ll be brilliant,” chuckled Ciarán Whelan. It was too.

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