Running mate: Tyson Gay training in Florida with partially-sighted athlete Jason Smyth.
Jason Smyth: The remarkable Irishman who is feeling his way to London 2012
By Jonathan McEvoy
UK Daily Mail
1st April 2011
Jason Smyth can see there is a clock hanging three yards away from him. But he cannot tell you the time.
‘You are sitting the other side of the desk and I don’t know what colour your eyes are,’ he said.
‘I can see there are two pictures up on the wall but I don’t know what’s on them.’
This is the story of the lad from Londonderry who trains with Tyson Gay and his squad of superstar sprinters and in his own way is as remarkable as any of them.
Smyth suffers from Stargardt’s disease, a genetic partial loss of sight, and has travelled across the Atlantic in an attempt to realise his dream — a place on the starting line at the London Olympics.
Next month he will compete at the BT Paralympic World Cup in Manchester, the world’s largest multi-sport elite disability competition outside of the Paralympic Games.
Smyth became a double Paralympic champion in Beijing, but he now has just two numbers in mind: 10.18 and 20.60, the times in seconds that will grant him qualification for the 100 metres and 200m next year.
‘I’m looking to run those times in 2011 and that will do it for the Olympics. It will take the pressure off me,’ said the 23-year-old, whose best 100m time came last year with a slightly wind-assisted 10.27sec.
‘I wanted to kick on from that but I got injured and it was a case of just getting to the
(able-bodied) European Championships, without doing much training.
Record breaker: Smyth takes gold in Beijing after a run of 10.62 seconds.
‘I made it there and ran 10.43sec to reach the semi-final, but I never got the opportunity to show what I could do. I think I am in a position to do that now.’
Smyth, who represents Ireland, moved over full-time to the National Training Centre in
Clermont, Florida, last summer, along with his coach Stephen Maguire, to link up with Gay and his coach Lance Brauman.
‘Stephen knew Lance after Beijing,’ expained Smyth. ‘We realised that we needed to try something new if we were going to get to London.
‘We came out here in May 2009 for six or seven weeks. From there our relationships grew and we came out again last year.
‘There are three advantages to being here — the weather, the facilities are on site and the training partners are the best in the world. It gives me the opportunity to improve, defend my Paralympic titles in the 100m and 200m and hopefully make it to London.’
On track: Gay and Smyth are gunning for Olympic glory in London.
At first, Smyth did not reveal his sight problems to his new training partners. One of the
group soon looked him up on Google and, on discovering his Paralympic pedigree, wound up Gay by saying the new kid had won more than him.
But how much of an impediment is partial sight to a sprinter?
‘I don’t know it any other way,’ said Smyth, who wears sunglasses to run. ‘I have under
10 per cent of perfect eyesight. You see a lot of things but they are blurry. To see clearly you have to be very close up.
‘When I’m running in a straight line it’s not a big issue. But when a track’s wet it can give off a glare that makes it hard to see lines going round bends.
‘Training-wise it has a bigger effect. Technically, I can’t see what I am doing in a mirror. Or what others are doing. It is not good for spatial awareness when you are hopping over hurdles. I’ve got a scar from when I hit a box last year.
‘Stephen works with me to get me to the point where I can feel what I’m doing. It’s all feeling pretty good at the moment.'