Blind sprinter Jason Smyth makes history at Europeans
Londonderry sprinter Jason Smyth raced into the history books last night as he became the first Paralympian to compete in the European athletic championships and also qualified for the 100m semi-finals.
Registered as ‘legally blind', the 23-year-old from Eglinton finished in fourth place in his heat in a time of 10.43 — 14th fastest of the 16 qualifiers.
Jason, who is running for Ireland, was up against Dwain Chambers and rising French star Christophe Lemaitre who also qualified in the heat in Barcelona.
He will now compete in the semi-finals tonight.
Jason shot to athletics fame in 2008 when he picked up two gold medals at the Paralympic Games in Beijing in the 100m and 200m where he was compared to sighted Olympic winner Usiah Bolt.
He has a season best of 10.32 seconds which ranks him 37th in Europe but was hoping that strong performance would see him through to the second round. At a meeting in Hungary earlier in the spring he ran a wind-assisted 10.27s which was deemed illegal.
This time round at the Mountjuic Olympic Stadium he will be hoping that the warm weather training camp he completed in Orlando, Florida, will have paid off.
For Jason lining up to compete was an achievement in itself. He is visually impaired and has about 10 per cent vision compared to a person with full sight.
Aside from the sight issues — something his coach Stephen Maguire was unaware of for the first eight months of their association — the young star had to overcome a slight hamstring injury which had led on to a swollen Achilles tendon which had stopped him running for a month.
He only qualified for Barcelona after coming second at a meeting in Castres, near Toulouse, France, when he recorded a time of 10.43 seconds.
Come what may this is an important step for the Eglinton man who plans to do a double in 2012 of defending his Paralympian titles as well as compete in the London Olympics.
Jason was pleased with his fourth in the 100 heats. He said: “Coming here, qualifying for the semi-finals was what I wanted to do. It was not a surprise to get through.
“But thinking about something is different from actually going out and doing it, so I am glad it went well and I did qualify.”
And he has not given up on a chance of a final berth.
“I will just go out there and perform as well as I can,” he added.
“I need to step up a level. It is an outside chance, but at least I am there.”
Jason Smyth had perfect vision until the age of nine when a hereditary condition called Stargardt’s started to take hold.
The genetic disorder resulted in partial loss of his vision, but at school he always competed against able-bodied peers.
Stargardt's disease is the most common form of inherited juvenile macular degeneration. It begins in late childhood, leading to legal blindness and it affects around one in 10,000 children.