Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 April 2014

Jason Smyth has dreams of Rio double

Jason Smyth defended his 100m and 200m titles at London 2012

Two gold medals, world records, making sporting history and a wedding to come with his beautiful American sweetheart.



No wonder Jason Smyth calls this the greatest year of his life.

The 25-year-old athlete gets married at the end of the month to fiancee Elise Jordan.

The ceremony in Salt Lake Temple in Utah will complete a glorious 2012 for the Eglinton man who has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is the finest Paralympian sprinter of all time.

Four years ago in Beijing, Smyth, at just 21, stunned the world by winning the 100m and 200m in the T13 class of the Paralympics.

Much like Usain Bolt in the Olympics, the pressure was on to repeat the feat in London.

Smyth took it all in his impressive stride, defending his titles in scintillating style much to the delight of 80,000 screaming fans inside the Olympic Stadium.

Jason's performances in the 100m and 200m finals were iconic moments in an unforgettable summer of sport.

He matched Bolt's heroics four weeks previously in claiming a sprint double, but outdid the legendary Jamaican by breaking world records in his events — 100m (10.46 seconds) 200m (21.05 seconds).

Bolt has confirmed that he will be in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 to once again defend his titles — and Smyth, a genuine and affable soul, says he will do the same.

The former Limavady Grammar School pupil, however, is looking for something more.

He is desperate to compete in the Paralympics AND Olympics next time after agonisingly missing out in 2012.

Eglinton's favourite son needed a time of 10.18 to qualify for the Olympic A standard. His best of the season was 10.22 which wasn't quick enough with Team Ireland not selecting anyone in any sport who didn't have the 'A standard'.

“To be honest I thought I was capable of running that time, but it didn't work out that way,” says Smith philosopically.

“What happened in the Paralympics in London made up for it because really that event couldn't have gone any better for me.

“I won two golds and broke world records in each final which was fantastic. Achieving that was great but to have the incredible support that was in London made everything even more special.

“The Paralympics has moved forward so much and come out of the darkness. Hopefully that will continue

and I want to play my part in that.

“In 2016 in Rio I want to retain my Paralympic titles. I also want to make the Olympic Games in four years time. That's my big goal — it would be brilliant if I could race in both.”

Smyth has already mixed it with able-bodied athletes in major competition reaching the 100m semi-finals of the European Championships in June.

Next year he intends competing in the World Championships in Moscow in August.

Prior to that, he says: “I have the World Paralympics championships in Lyon in France in late July when I'll hope to win two gold medals again.

“Then it's the mainstream World Championships. I'm hoping to qualify for that. It'll require me to run a little quicker than my personal best but I believe I am capable of doing that.”

Like any successful sports star self belief is key to Smyth. It's a quality he has had from an early age. Diagnosed with an eye condition called Stargardts Disease when he was eight years old Jason quickly came to terms with it.

The disease reduces his vision to roughly 10 per cent of an average person's eyesight.

Refusing to dwell on it, he just gets on with his running and on with his life which has on the horizon a wedding with Elise on December 29.

They are due to be married in the world famous Salt Lake Temple in Utah, which is the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS), better known as the Mormons, who are renowned for their clean living.

“Everything is happening this year, from winning two gold medals to getting married,” says a clearly contented Jason, with a smile on his face.

“Elise is from Utah and that's where we are getting married. It's obviously a long distance for my family to travel but I'm really looking forward to having them over for the big day.

“I have two or three aunties and uncles in America and it's been a while since all the family have been together at Christmas so it'll be really good.

“I'm just grateful that not only have things on the track been good for me but things in my own personal life are coming together as well.

“I'm really looking forward to getting married because I believe life will become even more enjoyable now and that I'll be able to share any success I have in the future and memorable moments with my wife.”

Florida training camp gets best out of our Jason

By Steven Beacom

Jason Smyth revels in working alongside world class athletes like Tyson Gay in his Florida training camp.

No wonder then, after his Paralympic glory earlier this year, he decided to return to the USA to use the National Training Centre in Clermont as his base in a bid to become an even quicker sprinter.

Many athletes from the UK may be overawed by the challenge of going toe-to-toe every day with American sprint king Gay — the joint second fastest man in history having clocked 9.69 seconds for the 100m — but the county Londonderry native sees it as an inspiration rather than intimidating.

The four time Paralympic gold medallist, who along with Gay is part of legendary coach Lance Brauman's training team, says: “I've been back in the States training with the group that I've been working with for the last few years.

“It's a world class environment, you've got the high class athletes there like Tyson and great weather which is a big plus.

“It was the best move for me. I'm going to be based in Florida until June next year, apart from when I get married at the end of December. I'm taking 10 days off straight after the wedding and then it'll be back to training and reality.”

The reality will include not having his sounding board, close friend and personal coach Stephen Maguire in Florida to talk to.

Maguire, a crucial figure in Smyth's remarkable rise to prominence, became the Director of Coaching for Scottish Athletics following the Paralympics in London.

“Stephen's not there to give me that little bit more attention and do extra work so now I'm just in with the group,” says Jason.

“I don't see myself having another individual coach. One of the big things was in financial terms we couldn't sustain what we were doing and that's why Stephen had to take another job. I really wish him well.”

In a recent Belfast Telegraph interview Maguire said he would continue to keep in touch with Smyth adding that he felt there was improvement in the Eglinton man, who has a personal best of 10.22 seconds in the 100m — 10.18 was the ‘A' standard qualifying time for the Olympics.

So, how fast does the 25-year-old think he can go?

“It's a good question and one that I don't know the answer to. Right now for me it's one step at a time. My best is 10.22 and my next aim is to run 10.18.

“ If I can reach that standard then I'll look at running 10.15 and so on. What I want to do is keep improving,” says Smyth, who when winning two gold medals in the Paralympics in Beijing 2008 emerged as a true Northern Ireland sporting hero, enhancing that status with two more golds in London this year.