Smyth in race to find fastest Paralympic sprinter
IRISH two-time double Paralympic champion Jason Smyth, the fastest Paralympic athlete on the planet, will also be out to etch his name into history at the Rio Games next year.
“Comparisons have been made between me and Bolt,” said Smyth, whose world record of 10.46 seconds in the visually impaired T13 class is the fastest time ever posted by a para-athlete, across all classifications.
“For me, it’s a privilege to be compared to such an incredible athlete both on and off the track, it’s an honour. But Bolt’s got the relay titles too – I need to put together an Irish relay team.”
The Derry City Track athlete is currently in Rio where he is to take part in the one year to the Paralympic Games celebrations this weekend. These include a 100m challenge that aims to define the fastest para-athlete on the planet across all classes. This will take place on the second day of a Paralympic Festival on Monday, September 7.
Among Smyth’s rivals will be Australian Evan O’Hanlon, another athlete who will be aiming to defend his 100m and 200m titles from Beijing and London in Rio.
O’Hanlon’s world record in the T38 cerebral palsy class of 10.79 seconds is marginally slower than Smyth’s, but Smyth dismissed any talk of being the favourite, instead focusing on what the event means for the Paralympic Movement.
“It’s a great idea and the moment I heard about it I thought, ‘this is a unique opportunity’,” said Smyth.
“I’ve been competing in Paralympic sports for 10 years and not once have I had the chance to race against people with different disabilities. It’s all about getting people from all different backgrounds together in a celebration of what Paralympic sports is about.”
ATHLETICS IRELAND’S high performance director Kevin Ankrom was pleased with the performances of the Irish athletes at the World Athletics Championships that concluded last weekend weekend in Beijing. But he may be in a minority.
Ankram summed up the Irish team’s championships in Beijing as having: “Some very positive performances and for many of our athletes, the opportunity to gain valuable experience in the year prior to the Olympics.
“Ultimately our best performers have secured some very high placings in the world order during the Championships in Beijing. Rob Heffernan is fifth in the world, Mark English 10th, Thomas Barr 11th and the relay team 13th. These are very creditable results on the world stage.”
Ignoring the results of the three aforementioned individual athletes, the remainder of the team performed well below par. Few, if any, recorded a season’s best at a meeting which should have been the highlight of their season, possibly their career.
All too often Irish athletes were out of their depths even in the first round heats, trailing home at the back of the field.
Maybe it’s time that we took a leaf out of the British Athletics book.
They do not send anyone whom they do not think has a genuine hope of making a final regardless whether they have a made the IAAF qualification standard or not.
They did not sent their number one female steeplechaser Lennie Waite, Ireland sent three with inferior times. And they ranked 29th, 33rd and 39th of the 42 competitors who finished the heats.
Ankram went on to say: "I believe that all of the athletes will agree this championship is the most valuable experience that each of them will take away from the championships and a great opportunity to build on prior to the Rio Olympics.”
What the HP Director did not seem to have noticed in Beijing was that a new wave of talent is coming through. Men and women in their early twenties such as South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekirk (400m) and Danielle Williams (100m hurdles) and Kenyan Nicholas Bett (400m hurdles) were coming through and winning titles.
For instance, Thomas Barr was born in 1992 as were four of the finalists in his 400m hurdles event with a fifth not born until 1994. Similarly two of the finalists in the 800m were younger than Mark English.
What difference will a year make to their prospects in Rio? And these pair along with 37-year-old Heffernan were the success stories.
Ankram can quote from strategy plans and statistics until the cows come home but for many the World Championships were a huge disappointment from an Irish perspective.
PADDY HAMILTON starts as favourite for Sunday’s Pure Running Laganside 10km (2pm) after an impressive performance at Dessie’s Run in Derry last week. Now based in Newry, the former Annadale Strider clocked an impressive 31:13 on the fast riverside course which should be good enough for victory in the Laganside.
The only fly in the ointment for Hamilton would be the appearance of the enigmatic and mercurial Stephen Scullion. The Belfast man is having his first race in over a year after switching to Nic Bideau’s stable of Australian distance runners based in London over the summer.
St. Malachy’s stalwart Joe McAlister should be capable of seeing off the challenges of East Down’s Brendan Teer and Willowfield’s Brian Campbell to take the final place on the podium. Hosts North Belfast Harriers should have more than enough firepower to lift the men’s team title.
The women’s race looks like a straight shoot-out between Ann-Marie McGlynn and Danielle Fegan from the Armagh club. Kerry O’Flaherty was intending to run but has pulled out because of her exertions this season on the track. However, a change of mind is possible after the Newcastle athlete was a convincing winner of the Mill Hill Mile race during the week.
Gladys Ganiel O’Neill will also be in the field and having her first race back after having a baby just thee months ago. The women’s team race is also four to score, same as the men, and the hosts should have the strength in depth to retain their title from last year.
ANOTHER massive entry has been confirmed for Sunday's Waterside Half Marathon in Derry, with around 1,900 registered for the 34th staging of the popular local classic.
The entry process ended early last week and there are over 1700 runners signed up for the full 13.1 miles, one wheelchair participant and sixty teams tackling the 3- person team relay.
That is a lot of people going onto the roads with the new race route taking them from the Ebrington start site at 10:00am, across the Foyle Bridge, along the riverbank to Coshowen, back to cross the Peace Bridge for a final dash to the finish on the St Columbs Park running track.
Dublin-based Kenyan Freddy Sittuk, the two-time Walled City Marathon winner, is expected to toe the line just seven days after his success in the Longford Marathon. Main opposition is likely to come from his Raheny Shamrock AC clubmate Mick Clohisey who was Irish champion at the distance in 2014. Declan Reed , Scott Rankin and Buncrana teacher Pauric McKinney the most likely home challengers.
Catherine Whoriskey could be the leading female, the in-form local Spartan and the Foyle Valley duo of Martina McMullan and Gemma McGinty, look capable of producing the first Derry winner for several years.