JASON SMYTH makes history today by becoming the first Paralympian to compete in the European Athletics Championships.
The 23-year-old Derry man had a sensational double at the Paralympic Games in Beijing two years ago when he won both the 100m and 200m titles. Soon after, he and coach Stephen Maguire, revealed their ambition to target a place at the London Olympics in 2012.
Since then he has trained at home and in the US and the hard work has paid off with a personal best of 10.32 over 100m in Antrim in June and a place on the Irish squad for Barcelona.
Smyth was only eight when he contracted Stargardt’s disease, a genetic disorder leading to a reduction in his vision.
“The quality of my vision is about 10% compared to that of a person with full sight,” he said.
But he makes light of the disability. “Half the battle in achieving your goals is just believing you can do it,” he said as he put the finishing touches to preparations for the opening heats of the 100m at the Olympic Stadium this evening.
Maguire has little doubt about the sprinter’s capabilities and is confident of his chances against such an elite field.
Maguire said: “He spent six months training with Tyson Gay and a number of other stars during the winter when we travelled over and back to the training camp. He felt very comfortable in that group and he has also integrated well with this Irish team. Paul Hession, David Gillick and Robert Heffernan have all been very good to him.
“Right now Jason is in good shape. He’s obviously not 100% race fit because he missed some vital races when his achilles tendon and hamstring flared up after the European Team championships. He over strided in the 100m and jarred it a bit. It was nothing major but when he ran in Castres (10.41) last week it was his first race in four weeks.
“Up to now everything possible has been done to give him the best possible chance. We had a block session on Sunday and he looked good. This is a big ask for him. He has a great chance of getting through the first round with his Paralympic experience at this level. After competing before 90,000 people in The Birds’ Nest in Beijing he can handle the pressure. And he ran a very good race in Budapest where the three guys behind him have all run in the low 10.20’s.”
Smyth though wouldn’t be the only man at the centre of sprinting attention today as Christophe Lemaître, top of the European rankings for both 100m and 200m, bids to match Francis Obikwelu’s double in Gothenburg four years ago.
The 20-year-old Frenchman has been in spectacular form all season. At the national championships in Valence he broke the 10-second barrier in the 100m setting a national record 9.98 and the following day he set another national record to win the 200m in 20.16. Winner of the European Athletics Rising Star award last year, he was also part of the French 4x100m relay squad that reached the final at the World Championships in Berlin last summer.
In the 100m, he could well have Obikwelu’s championships record of 9.99 in his sights. But then, so too could Dwain Chambers, the English veteran who has been showing flashes of his old form.
He stormed off the track after the final in Budapest 12 years ago, angry at losing by fractions of a second to his compatriot Darren Campbell.
Four years later in Munich he was first across the line in 9.96 secs but he was stripped of the title the following year when he tested positive for tetrahydrogestrinome (THG) and admitted to taking drugs in 2002.
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