“The goalposts have moved, but the goal remains the same. What I want to achieve hasn’t changed, just when I want to achieve it.”
That’s the reaction of the fastest ever Paralympian, Jason Smyth, to the postponement of the Tokyo Paralympic games.
“Like a lot of athletes, it’s mixed emotions,” the Derryman says. “First and foremost, it was the right decision and if you asked any athlete they would have told you that they saw it coming.”
Set to run the 100m and 200m in the T-13 visually impaired category, Smyth has five Paralympic gold medals (two Beijing 2008, two London 2012, one Rio 2016). He’ll be 34 at Tokyo 2021 if the Games occupy the same calendar slot, but isn’t worried that time will catch up the legs.
“My plan was all about Tokyo and then reassessing after. It’s a four-year cycle and as you get older and closer to the end of your career it’s harder to plan four years ahead, but Paris 2024 is only three years on from Tokyo now," he said.
I am in better shape than I have been in six or seven years; I’m in a good place. Being in a good place increases my longevity so the delay doesn’t change anything for me going into next year.
“For me, it’s about staying as close to where I am now as possible and dropping off as little as possible.
“We’ll see now what impact it has on people’s preparations. I had already run the qualifying time so I didn’t have to worry about that, I wasn’t chasing or forcing anything," he said. "When you’re ahead of where you need to be, it’s always easier, but it’s much more difficult for those that were chasing it.”
The postponed Games could yet be held sooner than July 2021, after International Olympics Committee president Thomas Bach indicated the IOC are not tied to a summer schedule.
“The agreement is that we want to organise this Olympic Games at the latest in the summer of 2021. That means that this task force can consider the broader picture,” he said.
Smyth certainly won’t be taking an extended break.
“You can’t put the feet up," he said. "What you do this year sets the foundations for next year."
“In my sport, we’re preparing to run fast during the summer so if I decide to take a break, by the time next year comes around I’ll be looking back and thinking ‘when was the last time I ran really fast?’ The answer would be the summer of 2019 — that’s far too far away.
“Training-wise, I plan to still be able to run fast this summer even though there are no guarantees that there’ll be races. I need to be in that shape and then later in the year look to build through winter training just like a normal season.
“Athletics Northern Ireland have given me some gym equipment and that gets me by in terms of core work, strength exercises. It’s good that I can do all of that here in my home,” he added.