Athletics: Smyth reaping benefit of life in American fast lane
DERRY sprinter and double Paralympic champion Jason Smyth returns home from America this weekend hoping to quickly show the benefits of spending the best part of the last six months training with the second fastest man in the world.
Tyson Gay set a world record for the straight 200m (19.41) in Manchester last weekend, but within 48 hours was back in the midst of his 14-athlete training group near Orlando, which, since last October, has included Smyth.
The City of Derry sprint star, who will make history this summer as the first Paralympian to compete in the European Championships in Barcelona, has already seen the benefits of training in a group that includes the 2007 double world champion.
Smyth ran two personal bests --19.41 and 21.09 -- in Tampa last weekend. His new 100m PB is well inside the European 100m qualifying time (10.45) and his new 200m time knocked three tenths of a second off his previous best and just nine hundredths off the 21 flat qualifying time.
Smyth's coach Stephen Maguire, a former AAI director of coaching, has been gaining equally invaluable experience by acting as assistant to Gay's coach Lance Brauman during their time in the States.
It was Maguire who initially secured Smyth a six-week training spell in Brauman's group in the build-up to the Beijing Paralympics and the relationship has blossomed since.
Grant aid from the Northern Ireland and Irish Sports Councils, and a bursary from the Irish Institute of Sport, have allowed Maguire to take advantage of this unique opportunity.
And having seen, first-hand, what Gay and his ilk are doing in training, Maguire insists there is no magic formula. "You hear people talking about the Americans and Caribbean sprinters, wondering how they are so good, but it is clear it comes from unbelievably hard work," he said.
"Jason's work-load has doubled while he's been here," Maguire said. "The group trains six to seven hours a day, six to seven days a week.
"It was very tough at the start, he would be stiff and sore and completely wiped out after some sessions but he has stuck with it and really applied himself. Lance places huge emphasis on running technique and he also demands that you leave your problems at the gate when you come training."
Veronica Campbell-Browne, whom Brauman coached to two Olympic titles, has moved on this season but Smyth has been the only white sprinter in the training group, which includes top Jamaican Steve Mullings, Andretti Bain (a former NCAA 400m champion), top Caribbean sprinters Aileen Bailey and Debbie Ferguson and Nikel Ashmeade, Jamaica's 200m silver medallist at the 2008 World Junior Championships.
Yet, surprisingly, the facility they use is not collegiate or club-owned but belongs to a hospital in Clermont.
"They have a track and a full gym for rehabilitation and you could actually find someone doing weights beside Tyson Gay who is doing rehab from a stroke," Maguire said.
After such an unprecedented opportunity, Smyth not only hopes to qualify for the 100/200m in Barcelona but also to compete in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi next October.