Catching up with Jason Smyth

“I’ve been a member of Vision Sports Ireland for it must be close to 10 years. I have achieved quite a lot of success during this period.”

Jason was certainly not overstating his success when I met him at the launch and re-branding of Vision Sports Ireland recently. He is, after all the quadruple Paralympics gold medal sprinter who just keeps breaking world records.

Jason had just broken off his US holiday especially to re-launch his national governing body (NGB) for the Paralympics sport of athletics Vision Sports Ireland.

In truth Vision Sports Ireland had little to do with the success of Jason Smyth, aside from protecting him as an NGB. However, it was at a Vision Sports Ireland event in the last decade that Jason made his first strides into disabled sport. In a previous interview with me last year Jason recalled that period “I got the information that I had to come and trial if I was to take part in the European Open Disabled Championships in Finland in 2005, so I went down to a track meet near Dublin alright around that time”.

17 years old Jason Smyth – who has just 10% vision – was an unknown as he prepared to compete in the 2005 Vision Sports Ireland May Games at the Aer Lingus Sports Complex at Dublin Airport. Former Paralympics Ireland President Tony Guest remembers the day.

“Jason took off in the sprints that day and just blew the field away. We (Vision Sports Ireland) had nobody who could get within an ass’s roar of him.”

That was then, this is now.

At the recent Vision Sports Ireland launch that other great athletics World Champ and indoor mile record holder Eamonn Coghlan introduced Jason to the wider group by saying “people refer to Jason as the Usain Bolt of Paralympic athletics. I say hats off to a fantastic world class athlete.”

Above: Two World Champs square up for a chat. Eamonn Coghlan and Jason Smyth outside recent VSI Launch at Buswells Hotel, Dublin.

As launch formalities concluded Jason was surrounded by photographers, autograph hunters and well-wishers. I had a pre-arranged interview set up with him and had some job steering him away from his many fans. For the record Jason has in the region of 25,000 social network followers!

As we found a quiet room, compliments of Buswells, the fastest Paralympian on the Planet said “it’s a pleasure to be here today to be part of this very special occasion for Vision Sports Ireland.”

The pleasure is ours too, Jason.

So, tell us about the greatest Paralympic Games in history, London 2012?  “Yeh, 2012 was a fantastic year. To go to London as the champion under pressure to win, and to come out of it achieving what I wanted to achieve. Winning gold medals and world records so close to home, with friends and family so close by.

The media really got behind it. They laid the building blocks which has got us to where we are now with Paralympic sports.”

Jason is so modest as media feed from the message and, on this side of the world, Jason is key to the message. After all, as Irish national champion, he was the first ever Paralympian to compete at IAAF (able-bodied) European Athletics Championships and joint first to compete at IAAF World Championships.

So, Jason, you received gold in London, you gave away gold too? “Yeh, I got married a few months later. It was a very busy year.” Jason married his sweetheart Elise Jordan at a Christmas wedding at Salt Lake City.

2013 has been a mixed year to date for Jason. Two IPC World Championships gold medals and two more World Records followed by becoming Northern Ireland’s first sporting ambassador.

On the other hand the London 2012 anniversary games in Stratford squeezed him out. Then there was the International Paralympic Council decision to drop the 200m from Rio 2016 thus diminishing Jason’s chance of another double?

“This is extremely disappointing,” says Jason, “I have seen no reason why they made the decision. Some of these reasons don’t match up.”

Jason is absolutely right. True, the number of disability categories has been problematic compared to the Olympic Games where there are just 2 categories: male and female. True, particularly in women’s Paralympics, a correction was necessary to add events, as this area is rapidly developing. But, drop a 200m? Jason’s T13 heats and final in London took less than 30 minutes of the programme in total to complete! The answer surely is to extend the track day or add a day or two if absolutely necessary. At the Olympic Games, for example, some sports, such as soccer, begin early rounds days before the official opening. There are other worthy options but the dye is now cast for 2016.

So, Jason, have you thought of running the 400m as well as the 100m in Rio? “I haven’t thought about 400m. A sprinter does 100m, 200m but I haven’t thought about going further right now. I will focus on 100m for now and take it year by year.”

The world athletics earthquake of the year came in July when top US sprinter Tyson Gaye – training camp colleague of Jason – was banned for taking illegal substances. There is no need to ask Jason about drugs: the guy doesn’t drink tea, coffee, sup alcohol or smoke. This is in keeping with his Mormon upbringing and heart-felt beliefs.

But, if Tyson Gaye, effective leader at Jason’s winter training camp in Miami, is side-lined where does this leave Ireland’s top sprinter who has spent the last four years over there? “Again, I’m not 100pc sure whether I will go back to Miami, where I’m going to train and live has yet to be sorted.” I would expect the public to find out in the next few weeks which elite camp Jason will join but he’ll have no shortage of offers.

Minister for Transport Tourism and Sports Leo Varadkar TD meets his sporting idol Jason Smyth, Fastest Paralympian on the Planet and member of our very own re-branded Vision Sports Ireland.

Back on track “Next year I plan to qualify and compete at the IAAF Europeans and, yeh, the IPC Europeans too.” Then, of course there’s the home from home Commonwealth Games which will be held in Glasgow next autumn.

Jason, Ireland’s second fastest sprinter ever, has another goal: the magic 10.18 100m and the Irish Record. “I hope to break 10.18 alright. All I can do is work hard. What the future holds, if it happens it happens. I’m just going to work hard and hope I can achieve that.” Jason’s official PB is 4/100ths of a second short at 10.22 although he clocked 10.17 in spring 2012 in Florida. However, the wind gauge reading was narrowly above the acceptable speed.

If Jason cracks the magic record it is quite possible he will be taking an early visit to Rio in 2016, to make history and become the first visually impaired athlete in the world to compete in both Olympics and Paralympics.

I asked Jason about life after Rio. “I just don’t’ know. I am working towards the next 4 years only at the moment.”

As BBC TV was behind me in the interview queue I had to let Jason go.

As we shook hands the words he uttered at the VSI launch kept ringing in my ears: “I’m very much looking forward to assisting and helping Vision Sports Ireland reach out to vision impaired people in this country. Getting vision impaired people to participate in sport at all levels, including getting to Paralympic Games.”.


Photo Gallery (from left below this article):

1 Feature photo as Jason Smyth wins second gold at IPC World Championships in Lyon, France last July. Photo compliments of Paralympics Ireland.

2 Fred Cogley (President VSI 2003-2010), Michael Delaney (1992-1996 Paralympic athlete), Jason Smyth and the late Colm Murray (President VSI 2010-2013).. Photo taken from a VSI celebration in 2009.

3 Joe and Jason. Joe Geraghty meets Jason Smyth and writes the above article. Both are members of Ireland’s Paralympics Club but as Joe says “as athletes we are from different generations and are like chalk and cheese. I ran middle distance, he sprints. He has gold, I have memories. Jason will have both.” Photo: Ann Lyster. 

4 Jason launches Vision Sports Ireland at Buswell’s Hotel, 19th September 2013.

5. The Board of Vision Spots Ireland with Jason. Top, l-r Maria Watchorn, Joe Geraghty, Colm Larkin, David McLoughlin, Ann Lyster and Sarah McLoughlin (Company Secretary/Executive Officer). Bottom l-r Robert Dobbyn (Chairperson), Jason and Michael Clarke (former Chairperson, just retired).

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