It’s Now or Never

Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE
Picture credit: Brian Lawless / SPORTSFILE

Jason admits he must contemplate his future in the sport should he fail to meet the qualification time for 2012 London Olympics, writes Simon Collins

Breaking sporting barriers is what he does best and the Eglinton express, who is the fastest paralympian on the planet, is once again on the verge of making history on both the Irish and World athletics stages.

The affable Paralympic double gold medallist can become the first athlete to compete at both the Olympic and Paralympic Games in the same year should he meet the 100 metres ‘A Standard’ qualifying time before the July 8th deadline - four days after his 25th birthday!

Therefore, time is of the essence as he must attempt to shave just 0.04 seconds off his personal best and should he do so, his lifetime dream of competing with the world’s fastest men in the 100 metres in the English capital next month will become a reality.

Having returned home from his Florida base where he shares a track with the world’s second fastest man, Tyson Gay, Jason has resumed training at the Sports Institute of N. Ireland in Jordanstown and at the Templemore Sports Complex as he prepares for next week’s European Championships in Helsinki.

Those championships represent one of his final chances to meet the time of 10.18 secs. or better before what could be his last chance saloon in the Irish Championships in Dublin.

Should he fail to achieve that elusive qualifying time by the Olympic cut-off date, then the local sprinter admits that he will have to reconsider his future on the international stage.

Defending his double Paralympic gold medals in the T13 200m and 100m events will become his sole focus, but afterwards he will have to sit down and make the biggest decision of his career.

“If I don’t get to the Olympics then it will affect my future plans,” said Jason. “To what extent I’m not quite sure, because there’s so many ifs and buts at this moment in time.

“If things don’t go as I hope, I seriously have to look at whether I can keep doing what I’m doing. It’s not financially easy to sustain training in Florida, living out there and paying for flights. I’ve sacrificed a lot. I don’t really have a life out there, I just train, eat and sleep and that can be quite difficult at times.

“I will seriously have to look to see if it’s really sustainable for me to continue. Four years to Rio (2016 Olympics) is a long way away and I’ve given it a good shot these last three years.

“I haven’t come to any conclusions or anything, but I’ll have to seriously think about it and decide if it’s worth it or not. If it doesn’t come off, I will have to look at things.

“I’ll have to contemplate if it’s worth continuing. You can’t keep running around putting your heart and soul into something if you’re not going to get something out if it in the end.”

But he certainly hasn’t given up hope just yet and both he and his coach, Stephen Maguire, remains totally convinced of his ability to meet the required time.

He already has a wind-assisted 10.17 secs. this year and a legal 10.24, plus a 10.22 personal best from last year, so if conditions are conducive in Finland, the flying Spartan can certainly make the required standard.

“I’ve got until July 8th so I’m looking at the ‘Europeans’ and the ‘Irish’ and if things don’t go too well then I’m looking at the possibility of another two races between the two.

“From the start I’ve always felt I could reach it,” he added. “Training’s gone really well this year. I’m stronger and faster than I’ve ever been. Everything looks good so I don’t see why I can’t make it.

“In my first four races this year I’ve made mistakes in different parts of the races so it’s not as if I’ve put a full race together from start to finish. Sprinting is very much down to conditions as well so it depends on the conditions on the day.

“We’re talking about such a small margin, tenths and hundreths of a second, so if the wind’s blowing the right way you’ve obviously got more of a chance. And then the wind can be too strong so you just have to hope that things are good.

“It’s frustrating to get so close. It’s such a small margin which is ridiculous how close it can be. So, yes, it is frustrating but if I can keep my head down and keep working hard, hopefully it comes.

“You’ve got to get your mistakes over and done with in your first few races because I hadn’t raced in nearly a year. Now that I’ve got them out of the way, hopefully I can put my whole race together.”

Parting Ways

Jason will part company with his long term coach and mentor, Stephen Maguire, after the event as the Strabane man takes up his new role as Scottish Athletics’ Director of Coaching and whether he can find a suitable replacement remains to be seen.

Having grown up with Stargardt’s Disease - a genetic disorder which has left him with around 10 per cent of normal vision - the City of Derry Spartan operates around the track a lot by ‘feel’, with his coach making observations. When their working relationship concludes this summer, it will fashion a major headache.

And with plans to marry his American fiancee, Elise, in December, there’s a lot the Eglinton man must contemplate in the months ahead.

“I’m not going to be doing anything with Stephen now when he takes up his new role,” confirmed Jason. “I’ll have to find another coach. The reality is that we knew that after this summer if could be a possibility that we would go different ways.

“Three years ago we decided we would go out to Florida full-time and to be honest, looking back we’ve been very lucky we’ve been able to sustain it, financially and keeping a family out there was difficult.

“It was a miracle we were able to last and we were relying on the fact that if we were going to be together as coach and athlete, we had to make the sacrifices. Hopefully things go well and hopefully things will come off the back of doing well to make it more sustainable and we’re able to fund it. But that never happened at all over the last three years and we’ve come to the point where we’ve basically no choice.

“In one way I’ve been prepared for that and it’ll be a big change. I’ve been with Stephen since I started athletics and no matter where I decide to go coach-wise I’ve got a lot to take into consideration.

“I’m not like every other athlete. Visually I struggle and I’m a bit more dependant on my coach compared to others.

Wedding Bells

“I’m getting married in December as well so there’s a lot going on,” he added. “Depending on what happens in the next few months there’s a lot of big decisions to be made in all parts of my life and I don’t really know how it’s going to pan out at this minute in time.”

The prospect of taking part in the Olympics, especially as they’re so close to home, is tantalising, but he will never forget the Paralympics, which thrust him into the spotlight in the Birds Nest Arena in Beijing. And defending his titles after the Olympics is a burning ambition.

“No matter what happens, I still have to give everything to my bread and butter. I need to come away from the Paralympics having retained my gold medals from Beijing. That’s my bread and butter, that’s how I’m funded.

“It’s what I’m known for and it’s what has made me a full-time athlete.

“Whether I make it to the Olympics or not, the fortnight afterwards is going to be massive for me,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, Jason received a major boost on Wednesday of this week when being unveiled as the first brand ambassador for Topaz.