Rio Paralympics 2016: Irish star Jason Smyth calm despite Games funding worries

Jason Smyth celebrates after his T13 100m win at the London Paralympics
Jason Smyth missed out on qualifying for the able-bodied 100m at the London Olympics by 0.04 of a second

Irish Paralympic star Jason Smyth insists funding and other worries around the Rio Games, which start on Wednesday, will have no impact on him.

Four-time Paralympic gold medallist Smyth will be one of the first Irish athletes in action when he competes in the T13 100m heats on Thursday.

"Preparations have been ideal for me," says the world's fastest Paralympian.

"There are always plenty of doom and gloom stories beforehand but as an athlete, you just focus on yourself."

With Smyth's opening heat taking place at 23:15 BST on Thursday, the Irish star will not be involved in Wednesday's opening ceremony.

"As incredible as the opening ceremony is, there's a lot of standing around and it wouldn't be the ideal preparation for me, with my first race taking pace the next day," adds Smyth, who as an eight-year-old was diagnosed with the genetic condition Stargardt's Disease, which has left him with less than 10% of normal vision.

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Rio 2016 Paralympics: Jason Smyth says preparations for Games have been 'ideal'

Smyth to miss Wednesday's opening ceremony

The visually-impaired sprinter also missed out on the opening ceremony at London 2012 when he went on to break his own world records as he retained the T13 100m and 200m titles.

Smyth's 10.46 seconds 100m winning time in London remains the fastest ever Paralympic clocking, although the County Londonderry man has gone as fast as 10.22 in able-bodied competition.

Four years on, Smyth does not have the option of doubling up after the International Paralympic Committee opted to remove the 200m from this year's athletics programme.

Smyth has had over two years to get over that disappointment and all his attentions are focused on retaining his 100m title with the final taking place on Friday at 15:00 BST, less than 16 hours after the heats.

As ever with Paralympic competition, gauging the quality of Smyth's opposition is tricky, but the Team Ireland star expects home runner Gustavo Henrique Araujo to be among his main rivals.

The Brazilian finished second behind Smyth at last year's IPC World Championships in Doha, although the Northern Irishman's time of 10.62 seconds left him 0.28 clear.

"He's fairly new on the scene so I wouldn't be surprised if he kicks on a bit, especially as he has a home Games," added Smyth, whose 100m personal best of 10.22 - recorded in 2011 - enabled him to join Usain Bolt and the globe's other best able-bodies sprinters at that year's World Championships in Daegu.

Gustavo Henrique Araujo finished second behind Smyth in the T13 100m at last year's IPC World Championships
Jason Smyth expects local man Gustavo Henrique Araujo to be among his challengers in Rio

However, Smyth knows he will be a long odds-on favourite to retain his title - just has been the case since he started a long unbeaten record in Paralympic competition by achieving the T13 sprint double at the European Championships in Finland in 2005.

"Obviously there is the expectation for me to win and the pressure to do so but I try not to think about that too much," adds Smyth, whose wife Elise gave birth to the couple's first child Evie last October.

"It's a case of trying to control what you can control and the best way to do that is to be positive and just focus on putting your race together.

"Then you just hope everyone else finds themselves behind you."

Smyth started 2016 with hopes of also competing at the Olympics in Rio but his 100m season's best of 10.39 - clocked in May in Florida - was 0.23 seconds outside the qualifying mark.

However, that run was still his fastest time in three years following the knee injury he suffered in a gym session in 2013.

"Things have been going well. Being injury-free gives you the platform to get some good work done and I'm happy and optimistic that things are going to go well in Rio."

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