By Emily Jamison
Paralympic sprinter Jason Smyth is known throughout athletics as achieving what was once thought as the unachievable; triple Paralympic Gold and the title of fastest Paralympian on earth.
However, with all sport success stories, it hasn’t been the easiest of roads to the top. Spotted in school by his P.E. teacher who thought he had the drive and talent for the world of Paralympic sport, he was then famously rejected by Team GB officials for being simply not good enough.
Fast forward to London 2012, and with Team GB two gold medals short of the top of the medal table, they immediately regretted their dismissal.
Born in 1985 in Eglinton, County Londonderry, Jason is the eldest of five children. In 1995 aged nine he was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Condition, an illness that has left him with less than 10% vision. Following the discovery of his sprinting talent, he has been dominating Paralympic athletics since 2007.
When asked where it all began, he credits his school for the beginning of his success.
“I did GCSE P.E. at school and one of the practical aspects was athletics. Specifically it was a teacher called Liz Maguire who got me involved. After the weeks of being assessed, Liz came to me and said ‘Jason I believe you could be a talented athlete’ and asked me if I would be interested in going to an athletics club.”
It wasn’t long after his P.E. teacher’s enthusiasm that Jason shot to success winning double Paralympic Gold at the 2008 Beijing Games aged 21. In the same year he ran alongside Usain Bolt in the 100m at the World Athletics Championship in Daegu. In 2012 and 2016 he retained his Paralympic titles and the media began referring to him as the ‘Bolt of Paralympic sport.’
However, preparation for Rio 2016 did not go as planned, as Jason faced knee surgery that would see him missing most of the 2015 season. In October 2015, Jason was also changed from the T12 category to T13, meaning he could not defend his double gold in Rio as the T13 200m event has been removed from the Paralympics.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) tests regularly to ensure athletes are in the right category. According to the IPC, T12 athletes have a visual field of five percent, whereas T13 athletes have a visual field of 20 percent.
Jason spoke of how difficult it was to change categories in the wake of a major championship, and also of his disappointment at being unable to retain two Paralympic titles.
“It was disappointing that I didn’t have the chance to defend two of my Paralympic titles in Rio as the T13 200m was removed from the list of medal events by the IPC. However, it meant I was able to put all my energy into the 100m and try to bridge the gap between Paralympic and able bodied sport.”
So what is next for Jason, and how does he keep his feet so firmly planted on the ground? Being a devout Mormon, he believes that his talent is a gift from God. Unable to go on a missionary trip in his youth due to his disability, he talks about his faith at conferences all over the world.
“My faith keeps me humble because I know my talent is a gift that I have been blessed with. It teaches me to be disciplined, honest and have high morals. It teaches me that anything is truly possible in this life. I know for sure that without my faith I would not be the same person, nor as successful as an athlete as I have been.”
Currently unbeaten in the world of Paralympic sport, he balances his sporting career with family life, being dad to one-year-old Evie-Jewell.
When asked what he would tell her if she wished to follow in his footsteps into the world of athletics, he said she must be willing to make sacrifices to be the best.
“I would tell her or in fact anyone that wanted to make it to the top of athletics that it has given me moments that have been absolutely incredible. But you have to be willing to make a lot of sacrifices, dedicate your life to it and show a huge amount of discipline to make it to the top.”