Jason Smyth: Olympics move has silver lining for five-time Paralympic gold medallist

Jason Smyth sprints to gold in the T13 final at the Rio Paralympics in 2016
Jason Smyth sprints to gold in the T13 final at the Rio Paralympics in 2016

Jason Smyth says the postponement of the Tokyo Games until 2021 may give him a better chance of competing at the Paralympics in Paris three years later.

The Eglinton sprinter, 32, has backed the decision to postpone this summer's Games due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The five-time Paralympic gold medallist insists he's no concerns about making the qualifying time again next year.

"The goal remains the same - what I want to achieve hasn't changed, just when I want to achieve it," he said.

Smyth is the T-13 world record holder in the 100m and 200m and has dominated the class for over a decade, winning two Paralympic golds in Beijing (2008), two in London (2012) and one in Rio (2016).

He believes the postponement of the Tokyo Games may actually extend his career, even though he will be 37 by the time the Paris Paralympics are held in the summer of 2024.

Jason Smyth has remained unbeaten during his entire Paralympic career which started in 2005
Jason Smyth celebrates his T13 victory at the 2019 World Para-Athletics Championships in Dubai

Smyth added: "My plan was all about Tokyo and then reassessing after. Like a lot of athletes, it (postponement) brings mixed emotions but it was the right decision and if you asked any athlete they would have told you that they saw it coming.

"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.

"For me it's about peaking at the right time. 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.

"I am in better shape than I have been in six or seven years. Being in a good place increases my longevity so the delay doesn't change anything for me going into next year."

Smyth usually trains at the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland at Jordanstown and is grateful to Athletics Northern Ireland for giving him gym equipment to use at home.

Tokyo concerns

However, he is worried about the disruption to his regime, access to physios and funding.

Sport Ireland have guaranteed Irish Olympic and Paralympic athletes an extension to their state funding to 2021, with the two-year carding scheme under which they are funded now to continue for a third year.

Still, uncertainty and the unknown are uncomfortable bedfellows for elite athletes like Smyth.

Jason Smyth has mixed emotions over the postponement of the Tokyo Games
Jason Smyth has mixed emotions over the postponement of the Tokyo Games

"For me, preparations started almost straight after Rio. 2017 was about setting the foundations and then working towards getting to the highest standard - it's a four-year cycle and I am right where I wanted to be," he said.

"The whole thing has to change now. You have all that planning in terms of time, training, finance, and that all has to change just when all of that should be coming towards a single point.

"That's now not happening, and that's a challenge."