Jason Smyth, Tyson Gay Training Side By Side

Ireland's visually impaired sprinter could qualify for both the Olympics and Paralympics next year. 29 Jul 2011 By IPC

“He would be in my top five when it comes to technical guys running. Maurice Greene would probably be No. 1. I think Carl Lewis may be in there, Asafa Powell, Leroy Dixon and then Jason.”

Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of an eight-part series featuring some of the top competitors in Athletics as we approach the one-year mark to the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

The USA’s top Olympic sprinter, Tyson Gay, has cemented himself as the second fastest man in the world, just behind Jamaica’s Usain Bolt.

But, while he can run 100 metres in under 10 seconds, he is not quite satisfied with his running technique.

No, Gay said. Technique is more of a department suited for Jason Smyth, a visually impaired sprinter from Ireland who trains alongside him.

“I believe that Jason is very talented,” Gay said. “I honestly think that his running technique is better than mine. Sometimes, when he runs, he reminds me of Maurice Greene.”

And then Gay went a bit further with that thought:

“He would be in my top five when it comes to technical guys running,” Gay said of Smyth. “Maurice Greene would probably be No. 1. I think Carl Lewis may be in there, Asafa Powell, Leroy Dixon and then Jason.”

Five days a week, Gay and Smyth spend the winter months training together in the USA and the summer months training together in Europe. Gay’s guidance has proven to be invaluable for Smyth, who won gold in both the 100m and 200m races in the T13 classification at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games and who is hoping for a repeat performance at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London next summer.

“He gives me advice all the time and tells me things he’s seeing or watching and what needs to be changed and what it’s supposed to feel like,” Smyth said. “Getting advice from somebody who’s been there, done it and knows what it’s supposed to feel like, it’s priceless really, isn’t it?”

In fact, Smyth has become so quick on the track that he became the first Paralympic athlete to ever compete in the able-bodied European Championships in 2010 in Barcelona.

Smyth, a fast learner who puts his heart into everything, according to Gay, may have the chance to compete at the able-bodied World Championships in South Korea in August, which would push him one step closer toward his ultimate goal of competing in both the Olympics and Paralympics.

Smyth ran a personal-best time of 10.22 seconds in the 100m earlier this year, but that’s only good enough to qualify as a “B” standard for the World Championships.

Unless he runs a 10.18 before the end of next month, it will be up to Athletics Ireland – the country’s national Athletics federation – to determine if anyone with a “B” standard time will be a part of its delegation.

No matter what happens, though, Smyth has come a long way in just the last several months.

The 24-year-old suffered a setback at the end of 2010 when he had to stay off the track completely for nearly three months due to a serious stress fracture.

The injury held Smyth out of the 2011 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Athletics World Championships in Christchurch, New Zealand, in January, but after several months of rehab and devoting his life completely to training, Smyth is now back on track for London next summer.

Gay revealed that Smyth is extremely talented in getting out of the blocks, but that he is still working on how to best run around the curves of the track. The Irish sprinter is a bit limited because he cannot always see the lanes coming out in front of him with his almost obsolete vision.

Smyth, classified in the T13 category based on his level of visual acuity and visual field, said his sightline is roughly six to eight percent. He can see colours within close proximity; however, all objects are still extremely blurry, almost like looking through an unfocused camera.

“I can find ways to explain it, but I don’t think people can really understand it,” Smyth said.

But Gay has been telling him it does not matter whether he can see the lines or not. He just needs to relax and add a little more confidence to his step and he will be just fine.

“Just training with guys who run so quick, you have no choice but to be at your best every day or otherwise you’ll end up being too far behind and you’ll look silly,” Smyth said.

He has taken Gay’s advice with an open mind and in the meantime has developed a close friendship with him.

“He’s a real humble guy,” Gay said of his training partner. “This isn’t an egotistical way of showing. It’s more of if you are showing someone something that they’re doing wrong to make them better.”

And there is absolutely no question Smyth wants to get better.

“I’m the kind of person that wants to be the best I can be and reach my potential,” Smyth said.