Jason Smyth: Paralympic star says tracks should have remained available for elite athletes during pandemic

Jason Smyth storms to gold in the T-13 100m at the World Para-Athletics Championships in Doha in 2019
Jason Smyth has remained unbeaten at Paralympic level since his career began in 2005

Five-time Paralympic champion Jason Smyth says he is at "greater risk off the track" after his training regime was impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Smyth, 32, believes provisions should have been made for elite athletes before the Mary Peters Track in Belfast was reopened on Monday.

He says competitors could lose five months of preparation for the Tokyo Games, rescheduled for next summer.

"It is my job. I've a lot on the line," Smyth, who is visually impaired, said.

Smyth says having access to the Mary Peters Track is "incredible", but is adamant the home of Northern Irish athletics should have been made available for use at an earlier stage for high performance sport.

T13 sprinter Smyth says that with his ability to train away from the track limited, losing five months of preparation "is quite significant", even with the Paralympics and Olympics pushed back to 2021 because of the pandemic.

"No athlete can jump straight back to where they were at," said the Eglinton athlete.

"Over the next couple of months, I will be trying to get back where I was.

"One shoe doesn't, and can't, fit all when it comes to elite sport."

There's a lack of understanding

Being visually impaired, Smyth says training to the required standard throughout lockdown has been a challenge and insists the risk to him training at the Mary Peters Track would have been "minimal to none".

"With the amount of people out walking and dogs running around, for me being visually impaired, the risk is greater when I'm not on the track," he said.

"It is very much an individual sport and you are very much isolated.

"I could be training for weeks without being within 10 metres of anybody."

'It is very much an individual sport and you are very much isolated' - Smyth

With just over a year until the rescheduled Games, Smyth feels there is a "lack of understanding" about the impact of coronavirus on elite sport.

"If this resurges later in the year, you could be talking about 10 months of time adjusted or adapted in preparation for next year, which is incredible to think of as a possibility.

"We need to learn from the lessons of this time to cater for elite sport.

"You see other places doing it, so there is no reason why that can't be taken into consideration."

Tenerife training camp cut short

Despite his reservations over his training, Smyth feels like he is in a strong position to extend his unbeaten run on the world stage, which dates back to 2005.

"My preparation was as good as I could have hoped for," said Smyth, who had a training camp in Tenerife cut short when the pandemic began to spread across Europe.

"I've been in better shape this year than I have been for the last number of years and I am exactly where I want to be.

"It's now about maintaining where you are at and building again."

Jason Smyth
Smyth has won five Paralympic gold medals in his glittering career

Even though he will be 33 in July, Smyth isn't worried about challengers to his domination in the sport.

"Every time you step out on track you run that risk," he said when asked about the possibility of his remarkable unbeaten run coming to an end.

"Para-sport has continued to improve in my time, but I don't worry about what other people are going to do.

"If someone comes along and runs 10.0 seconds, that's what they are going to do."

You have to be selfish

With the Olympic and Paralympic cycle extended from four years to five, Smyth insists his hunger has only increased.

"It's five years of preparation for a 10-second race. The numbers are crazy when you look at it," he said.

"Everything you do on a daily basis has some impact on how you are going to perform.

"Very few people can just operate at 100%. So how do you get there? You have to make huge sacrifices and huge commitments.

"People love the idea of sport, but in reality, when you look at what goes on behind the scenes it really is a huge amount of work."

Top Stories

Also in NI Sport