Friday 23 March 2018

Golden boy Jason Smyth sets sights on Tokyo 2020 and fourth 100m title

Sprint king claims third 100m title and vows to continue the 'fairytale'

Ireland’s Jason Smyth crosses the line to win the T13 100m final for the third time in some style at the Rio Olympic Stadium Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
Ireland’s Jason Smyth crosses the line to win the T13 100m final for the third time in some style at the Rio Olympic Stadium Photo by Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

By halfway, it was all over. With the sucker punch already landed, Jason Smyth's rivals were left whirring their legs with desperate delusion, hoping but never truly believing that the Irish sprinter would relent and offer them a sliver of hope.

But that's not how he rolls. Never has been. Not in Beijing 2008, where Smyth announced his talent to the world by winning the Paralympic sprint double, nor in London 2012, where the Derryman blitzed his rivals once again, elevating not just his sport, but the entire Paralympic movement, to unforeseen heights.

And certainly not here, in Rio, where he screamed down the straight yesterday morning in 10.64 seconds, coasting across the line in the T13 100m final with the casual smile of a man who has done it all before.

It was so expected that in the aftermath relief was the first emotion to rock up at his door, though it was soon joined by elation, before the perfectionist in Smyth - the part of his personality that has driven him to become the fastest Paralympian in history - chimed in with some self-criticism.

"I'm over the moon," he said. "To win my fifth gold medal, it's a bit like a fairytale. I keep coming to these major championships and winning gold and I don't want the fairytale to end and thankfully it doesn't. I didn't start as well as I could, but I knew if I opened up the gap I'd put guys under pressure."

True to his word, the start was what ended it, not so much in how Smyth emerged from the blocks - that was good, but not all that great - but in his pick-up. For the first 40 metres, he was the high-powered engine pitched in with the reasonably priced cars.

Smyth clicked through his gears so quickly and emitted so much more force into the track than his competitors that by the time he reached 50 metres, he held a crucial one-step lead on chief rival, Johannes Nambala of Namibia. Still, he wasn't safe. Nambala is a 10.6-second man, an athlete with buckets of talent who looks poised to overthrow Smyth once he patches up his technique. In the final 30 metres, Nambala closed the gap, but the damage was done.

Smyth crossed the line in 10.64, with Nambala next home in 10.78 ahead of Australia's Chad Perris (10.83). His winning time was well down on the record of 10.46 he ran four years ago - and indeed his overall personal best of 10.22 - but this was no time to define success by the face of a clock.

"If I could have run a world record, incredible, but as long as you cross that line first the rest is forgotten," said Smyth. "I've run quicker than anyone else this year so knew I was the man to beat. I was confident I could produce the goods."

He did, yet again, and though many will never understand the true stature of his supremacy, there was a clue in the question put to Smyth by a Brazilian journalist yesterday afternoon: "Do you consider yourself a legend?"


Smyth may have spent a large chunk of his career living and training in the US, but his answer was proof that he has remained impervious to the sense of braggadocio that pervades so much of their sports culture.

"No," he said. "For me it's just about continuing to try to be successful. I hope it shows people you can come out and achieve things. I grew up in Ireland, no better than anybody else with no special privileges, but I've just worked hard, committed to what I'm doing and I have good people inspiring me and guiding me."

Smyth had been based in London for much of the past three years - where he is coached by Clarence Callender - but he relocated back to Derry in May along with his wife, Elise, and baby daughter, Evie.

So what reward could motivate him to keep his nose to the grindstone? "I'm planning to go to (the 2020 Games in) Tokyo," he said. "The next four years I want to run faster." It's that attitude which has made him a champion at three successive Paralympic Games to date. Three, that is, and counting.

Irish Independent

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