Jason Smyth claimed gold in his first event, the 100m, at Swansea following an upheaval after being reclassified only just ahead of the IPC Athletics European Championships.
Ireland’s Jason Smyth; reigning double Paralympic and World champion, and world record holder at T13 100m and 200m, has been reclassified from the T13 class to the T12 class due to the progression of his visual impairment; Stargardts disease.
The London 2012 hero is competing in the Paralympic Athletics European Championships which got underway in Swansea earlier this week.
Classification is an integral part of Paralympic sport but can often prove confusing. It provides the structure to separate athletes with similar levels of impairments into groups, or classes as they are commonly known, so they can compete in fair and equal competitions against one another.
For example this is similar to grouping athletes for competition by weight categories in able bodied sport as with boxing or rowing. In athletics classification the T refers to Track. In each class the lower numbers denote the more severe the athletes’ impairments and the higher less so.
The IPC is continually working to improve and strengthen classification standards across all Paralympic sports. Specifically in relation to athletes with visual impairment; as is the case with Smyth, IPC Athletics now use the LOGmar system for visual acuity measurement, as opposed to the Snellan system that was previously used.
Recently IPC Athletics advised that all athletes whose classification was confirmed prior to September 2011 (Smyth’s classification was confirmed in 2006) would need their classification reviewed in order to ensure that all athletes were assessed against the same standard. The LOGmar system is regarded as being more precise and therefore ensuring a more robust classification process.
Smyth said; “It was not what I was expecting. I have found it hard to get my head around the fact that a few days before my competition everything has changed; the days I am competing, who I compete against…everything. It also means since the last time I was classified my eyesight has got worse which is never what you want to hear.”
He continued: “Saying all that it doesn’t change what I want to achieve. I want to run faster, have more success in Paralympic sport and continue to bridge the gap between Paralympic and able bodied sport.”
As a T13 athlete Smyth was facing the prospect of only being in a position to defend one of his titles at the next Paralympic Games in Rio as the T13 200m event had been removed from the list of Rio medal events published by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) last year. As a T12 athlete Smyth will be in a position to contest two medal events in Rio with a 100m and 200m on the programme.
Smyth is one of an Irish team of eight in Swansea at these European Championships. Alongside him is fellow double Paralympic and World champion Michael McKillop, in addition to fellow London Paralympic medallist throwers Orla Barry and Catherine O’Neill. They are joined by wheelchair racer at 100m and 400m John McCarthy, teenage long jumper and sprinter Heather Jameson, Shot Put and Javelin thrower Lorraine Regan, and newcomer to this level Andrew Flynn who races in the 5000m.