JASON SMYTH will bid an emotional farewell to his long time coach and mentor, Stephen Maguire, when the Paralympic Games in London conclude next week and the pair are determined to go out with bang!
SIMON COLLINS reports
The Eglinton Flyer will attempt to emulate sprint sensation, Usain Bolt’s remarkable Olympic feat and successfully defend his Paralympic gold medals in the Olympic Stadium in the T13 100m and 200m events.
And his coach believes he can even go one step further than the Jamaican two-time double Olympic gold medallist and break the world records he set in Beijing four years ago - the perfect way to end their eight year association!
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The Paralympics Opening Ceremony will take place today and Smyth will get his competition underway on Friday at 9.35 p.m with the 100 m heats, and Maguire expects him to ‘breeze’ into Saturday’s final.
“I’d expect him to breeze through the heats on Friday,” said the Strabane man. “I think there will be fast times in both the 100 m and 200 m. The conditions of the track are good and the weather is obviously the determining factor.
“He will be running at night and there’s been a lot of showers since we got here. You don’t know what the breeze is going to be like at this time of the year. It won’t be a still night that’s for sure and if the breeze is behind him, I think he’s in the best shape of his life and he’ll make it happen.
“Without sounding too big headed, I think a world record is very much a possibility here and that’s always been part of the plan,” he added.
“You have to be confident and if someone beats Jason then I’ll shake their hands because they’ll be a very good athlete. But if he runs to his potential he’ll be very difficult to beat.”
Maguire will take up his new role as Director of Coaching for Scottish Athletics once the Paralympics conclude and while he is excited about that challenge, the 49-year-old admits he will be sad to cut ties with his protégé.
“This is our last competition after eight years or so working together so it will be emotional,” he added. “It’s a nice way to finish though isn’t it?
“This competition was always going to be a line in the sand anyway. We both knew that this would possibly be our last competition together due to funding issues and family and other things. It would become very, very difficult to develop what we’ve already achieved. So it will be sad when it all comes to an end.
“But Jason’s gone from someone who was running 11.10 secs to someone who’s running 10.22 secs and the way he’s developed as a person is also fantastic. I have no real regrets.”
Smyth was denied the chance to compete at the Olympic Games, however, after failing to achieve the Olympic ‘A Standard’ time required by the Athletics Ireland team, despite having met the B Standard, and Maguire admits that decision was a bitter pill to swallow.
“Obviously not qualifying for the Olympics, or not being selected for the Olympics which is probably a better way to put it, was a bit of a downer for both of us because that would’ve been an absolutely perfect way to end our association.
“But the Paralympics have always been a big goal for Jason because this is what he gets his funding for. The Olympics would’ve been the cream on the cake and given the fact Jason actually ran the Olympic qualification time, even though it was the B standard time, it’s difficult to take.
“But he’s run 10.22 secs and is the fastest paralympian of all time and I never thought a guy from Derry would do that in the 100 metres so it hasn’t been too bad of a career so far.”
The City of Derry Spartans’ profile in the sport has soared since that memorable moment in Beijing when he claimed the 200 m gold to complete an historic ‘double’ in the Bird’s Nest Stadium but with the increased fame comes the pressure and the expectations on his shoulders are immense this week.
“After winning double gold I suppose there is a bit of pressure because you can’t do any better than everyone’s expectations,” said Jason.
“I’m going in as the champion at 100 m and 200 m and anyone in that situation has to be thinking about defending those titles,” he added.
“If I didn’t have that mindset I would be concerned.”
But will the heightened publicity and favourites tag affect his performances?
“The big difference between now and Beijing is that his profile is so much higher,” said Maguire. “For instance, he was on Brazilian TV this morning, the International Paralympics Committee have him doing something with their Press team over the last couple of days, he’s recognised in the village by athletes and journalists and he’s asked for autographs all the time. So it means he’s not under the radar anymore.
“The comparison with Usain Bolt is popping up a lot as well with the possibility of achieving back-to-back double golds so there’s plenty of hype surrounding him at the minute.
“The main thing for us to concentrate on at this stage is to do the last bit of preparation and keep him healthy and focused and making sure he doesn’t get bored in the village.
“We had a hard session today, we’ll have a recovery session tomorrow and then fast blocks on Thursday. He’s in very, very good shape, our preparation in Portugal went really well and I couldn’t be happier at the minute.
“The stadium is sold out so that adds to the excitement. I was over at the Olympics with the Irish team and this stadium is every bit as good as the Bird’s Nest in Beijing. The atmosphere is amazing and the welcome Jason will get is going to be amazing,” he concluded.