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Jason Smyth: Lockdown will not affect my desire for more gold



Frustrating time: Jason Smyth feels he was hitting his peak just in time for this summer

Frustrating time: Jason Smyth feels he was hitting his peak just in time for this summer

�INPHO/Kieran Galvin

Frustrating time: Jason Smyth feels he was hitting his peak just in time for this summer

This was meant to be the beginning of the stretch to the Paralympics in Tokyo for Jason Smyth, the end to another four-year cycle that would hopefully end in yet another gold medal.

Instead, he and wife Elise are stuck at home singing along to the likes of Frozen and Trolls with daughters Evie and Lottie.

"The sad thing is I probably know too much about Disney princesses now!" laughed the 32-year-old.

Unfortunately that is the new normal for Smyth. Last month he had to return early from a training camp in Tenerife as Spain went into lockdown, and this week he was meant to be in the USA in training camps as he built up towards 'the big one' in August, with competitions beginning next weekend.

A five-time Paralympic gold medallist, the expectation was that this would be the year that would yield No.6. Fortunately he will still get a chance to run for more joy next year, with both the Olympics and Paralympics simply pushed back one year.

However, the frustration for Smyth, albeit only a minor one, is that he was entering this stage of the year in what he describes as the "best shape I'd been in for quite a while".

"I would have been interested to see where my performances were at this year," admitted the Eglinton man, who competes in the T13 category due to having Stargardt's disease, which limits his vision to less than 10%.

"The reality is, when you look back, you plan to peak at the end of that four-year cycle. So when I look back, I feel I really was in the best place I could have been at the end of the four-year cycle.

"When you get things right, there is a sense of I would like to have seen how I would have done, whereas if you were at the other end of the spectrum this was maybe a bit of a relief as it gives me a bit more time.

"I was just looking forward to being back on the track and being back to normal, heading towards Tokyo next year. The hard thing for me is the restrictions on using the track."

For now, then, the plan is to keep training at home thanks to gym equipment he's been provided with by Athletics NI in a bid to try and peak again this time next year.

Ideally, however, he'd be on the track keeping things ticking over, but, despite living only a couple of miles from his local venue, Smyth can't currently get there because of restrictions due to the coronavirus.

"Athletics NI have dealt with things very well in helping athletes find solutions," he said.

"The challenge is to find ways to maintain where you're at and not lose a step. I've got gym equipment, stuff like Olympic lifting bars, weight racks, I've got all that in my back garden and I've been using that.

"I could go and exercise on grass and on gravel, but it just does not work. I run 11m per second. That doesn't work on grass or gravel.

"You think about the number of people now out walking and out with their dogs, and you consider I have less than 10% vision: No.1, I couldn't get to that speed; and No.2, you have to consider the safety of others if I could. That makes it challenging."

But, despite all the challenges, the fire within him hasn't been lost either. While some may not be as committed while on lockdown and ease up on their training, Smyth has retained that steely focus to keep going.

It comes with the territory, what with not being beaten in a competitive race in a sensational 15-year career. But for Smyth, the ending, he hopes, isn't ahead any time soon, and that means getting things right now.

"In the bigger picture, all this doesn't change what I want to achieve. The challenging thing for me now is maintaining where I'm at," he stated.

"I'm 32 now, 33 in July. The better I can be now and over the next few years increases the possibility of me going on for a bit longer, so if I don't get my preparation right, that impacts the longevity of what I'm doing. That's the reality of it.

"So that bigger picture of how fast can I run to ensure my longevity at this level doesn't change if there was a competition tomorrow or if there was one in two months' time.

"I now appreciate more being in sport and competing at this level.

"For me, I want to do well in competitions, but I don't want this journey, as such, to end."

Belfast Telegraph