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Sprinter Jason Smyth seeks fifth gold for his girls

Legend Jason, dubbed the 'Usain Bolt of the Paralympics', admits he's no longer running for himself as he aims to keep inspiring youth

Steven Beacom

Published 08/09/2016

Winning combination: Jason Smyth with his wife Elise and young daughter Evie at their home in Dunmurry
Winning combination: Jason Smyth with his wife Elise and young daughter Evie at their home in Dunmurry
Jason Smyth

Jason Smyth has been there and done it at the Paralympics. Several times.

In the Beijing Games in 2008 and in London four years later, Northern Ireland's fastest man raced away with gold medals in the 100m and 200m in the T13 class.

Given his remarkable record and the modern day need to label everyone, it was hardly a surprise that in 2012 he was described as 'the Usain Bolt of the Paralympics'.

Unlike the Jamaican sprinting hero, however, Smyth is unable to defend all his titles in Rio as the powers that be have excluded some events from the past - the 200m is one.

The 29-year-old is a laid-back and likeable character. Not much bothers him, but he admits to being 'disappointed' by that decision.

And the Team Ireland star adds it means he must get the 100m right - starting tonight in the heats and in tomorrow's final for which he is a big favourite.

"There's pressure because I'm expected to win and also because I only have one event this time so that has to go well," says Smyth, already considered a Paralympic legend.

While not being able to take his gold medal tally to six, the focus is clearly on number five.

The big Liverpool fan relished his success in Beijing and London, but there are two extra special reasons why he wants to claim some treasure in Rio.

"It would be great to bring a gold medal home to my wife Elise and my daughter Evie," says Smyth, filled with pride when he mentions their names.

"I wasn't married for London 2012 and obviously Evie has come along since then too."

Evie will turn one in November.

Having spent years training in America, Smyth is now back in Northern Ireland and living in Dunmurry with his family.

He says his life has changed since the arrival of Evie.

Smyth, whose vision is affected by a condition known as Stargardt's disease and competes in the T13 category for partially sighted athletes, says: "As an athlete I have been used to being selfish over the years with training and competing and aiming to be successful on the track.

"Now I am running for someone else.

"I really enjoy being a husband and a dad.

"Evie is great. It's not easy being a parent and I'm certainly a lot more tired than I used to be but I love it.

"She's too young to see me race at the moment, but in a few years' time it will feel very special having her see me race."

That's one of the reasons why, post-Rio, Smyth is determined to continue competing.

He says that even now it is his intention to carry on to the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020. Whether he is still living in Northern Ireland then has yet to be determined.

While settled on the outskirts of Belfast at the moment, there is a chance that Jason may return to the States in the future especially given that Elise, who he married in a Mormon ceremony in the Salt Lake Temple in December 2012, is from Utah.

Diagnosed with Stargardt's disease when he was eight-years-old, the inspirational Smyth has learned to adapt to being without 90 per cent of his sight.

As a kid he dreamed of becoming a footballer but when, as a teenager, his talent for running was spotted by a teacher, his life changed.

By the age of 21 he was a winner on the Paralympic stage and is a multiple World champion too.

"I have worked hard to get to this point," says Smyth.

"I am in the sprint events and the 100m lasts only 10 seconds but there is an incredible amount of effort that goes in before we race.

"For us, the Paralympics are the biggest event and anyone who competes in the Games works for four years to get there and then try and win medals.

"My aim since London has been to try and continue to run to high standards and I think I'm in pretty good shape to do that in Rio."

Smyth isn't just the quickest athlete in his category. He is the fastest Paralympian on the planet across all the sprint disciplines.

"That is nice but ultimately you have to keep winning to be considered the best and that's what I'll aim to do this time," says Smyth.

He didn't attend last night's opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium as he is due to start his campaign for glory today.

Over the next couple of days he is aware that he may be the focus of much publicity, in particular if he manages to strike gold. Then, in the months to come, interest will not be so strong.

"It's the nature of our sport," he adds.

"I know people aren't going to be running after me in a few months from now but I'm happy that Paralympians will get lots of attention over the next few weeks.

"What I always hope to do is try and inspire youngsters to believe that anything is possible no matter what happens to them in life.

"I think I'm a good example of that."

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