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'I feel there is potential for me to run faster' - Smyth not ruling out return for Paris 2024

The 34-year-old could be tempted to compete at a fifth Paralympic Games.

Jason Smyth.
Jason Smyth.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

SIX-TIME PARALYMPIC gold medallist Jason Smyth has revealed he will take some time before making a final decision on his future.

Adding to his previous successes at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Games, the Derry sprinter squeezed over the line ahead of Algeria’s Skander Djamil Athmani in the Men’s 100m T13 final at the Tokyo National Stadium on Sunday.

This latest triumph continues a remarkable winning streak for Smyth, who has picked up an astonishing 21 gold medals – across a 16-year period – in major championships.

Speaking in advance of his departure to the Japanese capital, he had strongly hinted that he was interested in competing at the Paris Games in 2024. He still hasn’t ruled this prospect out of the equation, but the 34-year-old nonetheless won’t be making any firm commitments for now.

“Let’s be honest, things are always entering your mind. Thinking forward and also not thinking about it. I do think about it and it’s just trying to assess the landscape. Assess where I am at and assess ‘Do I have more to give in terms of performances?’ At this stage, it’s really just thinking about things,” Smyth explained.

“When I get home, I’ll chat to my wife. I’ll chat to people that help me around the track. As I say, get an even bigger view of the landscape and what the next few years may or may not look like.

“Thinking about it, but not clear on exactly what I’m going to do. I know I did say before the Games that Paris was something I’d be interested in going to. It is still something I’m interested in, but it’s just trying to assess and see where we’re at, I think.”

What makes the Eglington man so reluctant to call time on his athletics career is the fact that he still feels in such good shape on the track. His time of 10.53 in the 100m final was just shy of the world record he set at the London Paralympics in 2012 (10.46), but Smyth believes he was capable of an even stronger performance in Tokyo.

One of the big positives from this year is I was still able to run pretty quick, considering how tough or not ideal a year it has been in terms of preparation. For sure, I feel there is potential for me to run faster. Even in that race, I could have run faster.

“I tightened up over the last 20 metres. Without much consideration, there’s 10.40s there easily. There’s definitely a lot of pluses to take from that.”

In comparison to previous appearances at the Paralympics, the spectre of Covid-19 severely disrupted Smyth’s lead-in to this year’s Games. There were also a number of other issues and complications he had to contend with, which made his victory last weekend all the sweeter as a result.

“Probably my favourite as an experience is London 2012, but that’s probably everything around it. The experience, a lot of family, the atmosphere.

“In terms of what medal has meant the most, it has absolutely been this one. That’s really down to the background of what was in the lead-up to these championships, which obviously most people wouldn’t have been aware of.

“The injury issues and then all of a sudden the athletes that are in it that I wasn’t favouring on paper. To pull it all together right when it mattered, just makes it so much more sweet. If the games had been two weeks earlier, I wouldn’t have been in the shape I was. I was running that close to the line. I didn’t race enough.

“It’s me that we sit and talk to about the race, but it’s important to remember that it’s not just me. There’s a team around me. Coaches on the track, physio, S&C. That’s the team that works together to manage the situation. Manage the challenges we face. That gets me to where I need to be at the right time.”

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Because he is due to return home on Thursday, Smyth won’t be in the stadium when his friend and colleague Michael McKillop aims for his own clean sweep of gold medals across four Paralympics. The 31-year-old middle distance runner will be competing in the 1500m T38 heats on Friday, before hopefully returning for that category’s final on Saturday.

Whilst he is disappointed to be missing out on McKillop’s quest for a fifth Paralympic gold in-person, there will be a plus side to his remote viewing experience.

“It’s funny, I was laughing the other day with him. I was saying ‘I’ll actually see the race this time’. Because when I’m in the stadium, I can’t actually see the race. Someone sitting beside has got to tell me what’s going on,” remarked Smyth, whose central vision is affected by Stargardt’s disease.

“I’ll actually be on my computer, zoomed in. Being able to watch the race this time for the first time. Hopefully things go well for him and I was down the track earlier with him as he was doing a session.

“He’s in good form and hopefully he can use his experience and put things together here on Saturday.”

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