Jason Smyth’s superb gold medal and new Paralympics 100m world record in London last Saturday night was clearly the weekend’s sporting headliner.
And the Eglinton Flyer is confident of completing an historic sprint double in the 200m later this week to emulate Usain Bolt’s Olympics heroics.
Friday night’s 10.54s semi-final victory erased his own previous world record and a blistering 10.46s effort in the final saw the local Spartans sprinter blow away the opposition to retain his 100m title and set new record figures for the short sprint.
While he started as a clear favourite for the win, and he clearly is a class apart in his category, he nevertheless produced a commanding performance, powering clear from the gun and maintaining his momentum right to the line for facile wins in both his races.
The disappointment of missing out on Olympic selection earlier in the month was put aside and the defence of his 2008 Bejing sprint titles became the focus and he was so impressive as he completed the first half of the task on a memorable Saturday evening in London.
His lap of honour was a joy to behold, he was hugged by his girlfriend and family trackside as he responded to the acclaim of the cheering spectators who had witnessed the fastest Paralympian on the planet, up close and personal.
“This was far better than winning in Beijing,” he said afterwards. “There were 80,000 people and it felt like half of them were Irish.
“It was an added bonus to run quickly and break the world record again,” he continued. “To be in that stadium with 80,000 people, half of them seeming like they’re Irish cheering, and even the British were really supportive, makes the whole Games a lot better.
“Coming into the Championships I knew I was under pressure to retain my title so I wanted to do that first and foremost and thankfully I was able to do that.
“Of course there was the added bonus of a world record but times at championships are irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether you run 10.00secs or 11.00secs as long as you win. I believe I can run quicker than that again.”
Asked if the gold medal performance made up for his Olympic absence, he said: “It was very disappointing to be so close, I had put in a lot of hard work to try and get there and it would have been fantastic.
“There is definitely something sweeter about coming to a major event, succeeding and coming away with the gold medal.”
Impressively, Smyth set the new landmark time despite being well out in front of his competitors – a factor which normally blunts the competitive edge.
However, Smyth says the secret is simply concentrating on his own actions as he settles into the blocks.
“The start sets up the rest, so if you get the start right it puts you in a good position on down the track.
“You really have to keep focussed on what you want to do and hope that when you’re crossing the line that you’re the first man across.”
Aside from a good start though, Smyth – who will bid to emulate Bolt’s ‘double double’ by retaining his 200m title on Friday – puts much of his success down to his relocation to Florida where he enjoys the same training facilities as the second fastest man in history, Tyson Gay.
“Tyson’s been fantastic towards me out in the states. I’ve learned a lot from him and constantly he’s been trying to help me – nearly as if he’s been taking me under his wing this past few years to help me succeed.
“I’ve been able to be in that environment continually with the best athletes in the world so daily I’m being pushed to my limit and I’m constantly training at the highest level.
“When you’re constantly in that mindset and environment, all you can do is push on yourself. It’s shown in the last couple of years that I’ve gotten quicker and quicker.
“In all aspects of life, to try and improve you’ve got to go where the experts and athletes are. In sprinting that’s north America and the Caribbean.”
He now prepares for Thursday’s 200m heats and hopefully the Friday night final, with another gold and world record the objective.
Belfast middle distance runner, Michael McKillop, Jason’s room mate in the Games Village, was also a defending champion and duly took the 800m gold with a new world record 1m 57s clocking as Team Ireland landed two track golds in quick succession.
Like Jason, McKillop will chase another gold this week in the 1,500m where he too starts as favourite.
Meanwhile Ballykelly sprinter, Sally Brown suffered heartbreak at the Paralympics by narrowly missing out on a place in the women’s 200m final.
The 17-year-old had the ninth fastest time from the two heats. Despite equalling her season’s best time of 22:78 seconds, she just missed out on a place in the final of the T46 200m (single arm amputee).
After winning a bronze medal at the IPC Athletics World Championships last year in the same event, it is a blow to the GB athlete not to have made the final.
Silver Lining in Athenry
Back home and the City of Derry distance men lifted team silver in both the Senior and Masters categories at Sunday’s National Half Marathon championship in Athenry as Letterkenny’s Maria McCambridge ran 75m 25s to take the senior women’s individual crown.
Greg Roberts 5th, Declan Reed 7th and Emmet mcGinty 14th were the Spartans’ scoring trio in the senior team race, backed up by Kieran Hurley.
In hot, humid conditions and on a tough undulating two lap course the red vests battled well to split Dublin clubs, Clonliffe Harriers and Rathfarnham WSAF and bring home team silver medals.
James Brown with an inspired 73m 46s run led Paddy Doherty, Damien McGinty and Paul McCafferty to an equally deserved Masters men’s team silver to make it a good day for the local club.
Declan Reed also claimed the M35 individual silver medal, James Brown stepped up big time to add the M40 bronze to his team silver and Christy McMonagle yet again proved unbeatable with another M65 individual win.
Scott Rankin had a decent debut over the distance with a 73m 35s clocking and was followed by Foyle Valley clubmates Pius McIntyre and Chris McGuinness. Pauric McKinney travelled with the Derry lads and won the M45 age group individual gold.
Annadale Strider, Paul Pollock the reigning NI/Ulster cross country champion surprised everyone bar perhaps himself by slashing four minutes off his PB, clocking an impressive winning time of 64m 17s to finish comfortably clear of Clonliffe’s Sergui Ciobanu on 66m 47s and Rathfarnham’s defending champion, Seamn Hehir on 67m 05s.
Aileen Morrison made a surprise appearance at Sunday’s Laganside 10k in Belfast and finished second to Dromore’s Julie Turley who posted a good 36m 02s to the Derry athletes 37m 42s.