LONDON - Ireland’s Jason Smyth on Saturday staked his claim to challenge “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius as king of the track, by becoming the fastest Paralympian in history over 100m.
The 25-year-old, who like Pistorius also competes in non-disabled races, narrowly missed out on a berth in the Ireland Olympic team by four hundredths of a second but showed his outstanding class in the final on Saturday at the Olympic Stadium.
Smyth, who trains with US sprint star Tyson Gay in Florida and is visually impaired, clocked 10.46sec to break the 10.54sec world record he set in Friday’s qualifying heats.
Luis Felipe Guttierez of Cuba won silver in 11.02sec, one-hundredth of a second ahead of South African bronze medallist Jonathan Ntutu.
Smyth’s time was 0.03sec faster than Florence Griffith-Joyner’s non-disabled women’s record over the distance.
He said he had no doubts that he would win the race but was pleased that he did not let the pressure get to him, after he took the T13 100m and 200m sprint double in Beijing.
“I could get used to this world record run every time. I mean it’s an added bonus, this world record. When I come here I just wish I can beat the opposition,” he added, thanking the capacity crowd that roared him home.
“It’s all about these great moments. It’s what everybody watches and sees. It really seems like 80,000 are Irish so you’ve really got to enjoy it and just make the most of it.”
Smyth said earlier that training with Gay, the former double world champion at 100m and 200m who was a member of the US 4x100m relay team that won silver at the Olympics earlier this month, had helped him improve.
“I’ve been based out there (in Florida) for the last three years so (I’m) pretty much doing exactly what those boys are doing, I’m part of the group,” he told reporters.
“I’ve come along a way, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve got quicker and quicker, so just to be in that environment with the second quickest man ever is great.”
Smyth has run a personal best of 10.22sec in the 100m, although it was not recognised as a Paralympic best because International Paralympic Committee (IPC) rules state that times need to be set in IPC-licensed events.
He has ruled out a Paralympic athlete running under 10secs for the 100m in the near future — but still thinks it is possible one day.
“I ran 10.22 and my concern now is to get 10.1. And if I get 10.1, I’ll worry about getting 10.0. It’s one step at a time and to go from 10.2 down to under 10 is a massive jump,” he said.
Smyth said he hoped that his performances would help raise the profile of Paralympic sport, which currently is focused on the achievements of Pistorius after he became the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympics.
But he added that it would take more than one man to raise awareness about Paralympic athletes and push up standards.
“What he (Pistorius) does is fantastic. We’re trying to improve Paralympic sport and bridge the gap between the Olympics and Paralympics but I also think that it’s not one athlete that will be doing it alone,” he said.
“You need a bunch of athletes all coming through to really push it forward. At times it would probably help if things were spread out a bit more. But it is what it is.
“To be fair, he is doing a good job of promoting Paralympic sport and there’s not much more I can do than get out and perform.”