Eglinton’s Jason Smyth is relishing a defence of his status as the fastest Paralympian on the planet.
With the countdown on to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, Smyth’s preparations have hit the final stages ahead of his 100 metres title defence.
“When you’re the reigning champion, everyone on the starting line is aiming for one thing, to beat you,” said Smyth in a special video interview organised by Paralympics Ireland as part of the ‘More Than Sport’ campaign. “I do feel pressure to perform at Rio.
“Now I have not only proven that I am the fastest Paralympian in my category, but the fastest Paralympian on the planet.
“It feels great to have achieved that and I have worked hard to get to this point.
“All I can hope for now is to successfully defend my 100m title in Rio.
“Training has been going very well and this year I have ran the quickest time I have in three years, which is a great place to be.
“Sport is full of ups and downs.
“As difficult as the downs can be, it is all forgotten and worth the difficult time when the incredible highs come around.”
The ‘More Than Sport’ campaign is an awareness and fundraising initiative ahead of the Rio 2016 Games described by Liam Harbison, the CEO of Paralympics Ireland, as “extremely exciting and inspirational”.
Awareness and understanding remain key issues for Smyth alongside his role as an elite athlete within Team Ireland.
“A barrier I continue to face is that my disability is not visible to those around me,” said Smyth. “While other Paralympic athletes run on blades, need guides, or use a wheelchair, my visual impairment is not obvious to those around me.
“It causes others to take it less seriously and there have been comments like “there isn’t even anything wrong with him”.
“I try hard to overcome this by bringing attention to and raising awareness of understanding about visual impairment as I achieve success on the track.
“This year’s ‘More Than Sport’ campaign has raised awareness for Paralympic sport in Ireland.
“For me, ‘More Than Sport’ means that regardless of how many gold medals I have won, world records I have broken there is something more important, that is the opportunity to inspire and to tell a story that makes someone want to do better or be more.”
Smyth’s target remains pursuit of additional gold to build on his tally of European, World and Paralympic Games triumphs. However, in the video he takes time to reflect on his roots.
“I first got involved in athletics thanks to my PE teacher, Liz Maguire,” he said. “It was back when I was 16, we spent a number of weeks being assessed in athletics and she saw some potential in me and recommended that I go to the local athletics club.
“I grew up being a huge fan of sport, so the fact that I have the opportunity to do it at a high level is unbelievable.
“I have been very fortunate to get to do what so many dream of and put on that Irish vest and win gold.
“I think there are a lot of things that make a champion.
“My coach used to describe it to me like a jigsaw - you need to put all the pieces together to see the full picture or be the best.”
The Paralympic Games will run from September 7-18.
Visit www.paralympics.ie/more-than-sport to view the Smyth video.