"That’s what it all comes down to and what you’re remembered for; what everything during the whole year is geared towards – performing at major championships”
Multiple world and Paralympic champion Jason Smyth puts one of the longest winning streaks in Para athletics history to the test when he lines up at the Berlin 2018 European Championships next month.
The 31-year-old Irishman remains unbeaten in his class – a remarkable achievement that began with 100m and 200m T13 gold at the Espoo European Championships in Finland, 13 years ago. Now he wants to add two more European titles to his vast collection.
“It’s been a long journey with lots of great and incredible experiences during that time - I’ve seen the sport change a lot too,” said Smyth, who has 16 major Para athletics medals to his name – including five Paralympic and seven world titles.
“But it’s like every major event, it’s very important to do well. That’s what it all comes down to and what you’re remembered for; what everything during the whole year is geared towards – performing at major championships.”
While winning may be routine for Smyth, whose time of 10.46 at the London 2012 Games earned him the moniker of ‘fastest Paralympian on the planet’, this year he has had to adjust to a new schedule at home.
Daughter Lottie was born in late May – a younger sister to two-year-old Evie – and the demands of two young children mean that life is not quite as straight-forward as perhaps it once was – not that he would change it for the world.
“I suppose the harder thing now – in the past there was just Evie, so if I wanted to sleep in, there was two of us (Smyth and his wife Elise) to one of them. Whereas now we are one-on-one,” explained Smyth.
“That’s the hardest thing – getting the balance of recovery. I look back to years ago when all I did was eat, sleep and train; now you come home from training and run around the back garden playing tag, or you play with ponies in the house.
“There’s no doubt recovery is the big challenge but it’s not to say it can’t be done. You’ve got to learn again what works. You look back at all the times it was just you, but in reality you wouldn’t change having them about.”
Still, Smyth has tried to ensure he will be in the best possible shape come this year’s European Championships, which get underway on 20 August.
He worked hard over the winter, attending regular warm-weather training camps in Tenerife, and was back training soon after Lottie’s birth.
“She arrived Friday evening and I was pretty much training on Monday again,” he said.
“To be honest I haven’t really stopped – you can’t, it’s major championships, that’s just part and parcel of it. We knew this was going to be the case and I suppose the good thing is the Europeans are so late compared to last year when the Worlds were in July.”
And while he may be getting less sleep than he used to, the Belfast man believes he is still capable of getting faster. The European Championships provide the perfect stepping stone as he looks ahead to next year’s World Championships and beyond.
“It just keeps building and ramping up and that’s the plan for myself - to build on where I have been for the last couple of years and start getting back to running faster times,” he added.
“I think to be honest in the next couple of years I’ll run faster than I have. That’s me being honest about it. Up until London 2012 I was running my fastest, then in 2013 I ended up getting an injury which took two years to figure out and I had to get surgery in 2015.
“I’ve really found in the last couple of years – probably this year especially - that I’ve got back to a point where a lot of the base, the strength and the foundation to be able to put in the training load has come back.”
The fact that those around him are also improving hasn’t gone unnoticed. American Stirley Jones is the fastest in the world this year in both the 100m and 200m T13, while on the European stage, Poland’s world silver medallist Mateusz Michalski will be Smyth’s biggest threat.
“The reality is I’ve been running since 2005 and haven’t actually been beaten. There’s no way that I’m going to go my whole career without that being tested or challenged. And the longer you’re in the game the more likely that is to happen.
“It makes me sit here and realise I’ve got to find something else next year. It’s a positive thing – it’s just embracing that challenge and trying to run faster.”