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gold rush Paralympian Jason Smyth reveals his gold medals have found an unlikely home

My medals are in a cardboard box in the attic,” confirmed Smyth with a smile, in an exclusive Teams interview with the Sunday World in association with Allianz.

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6 September 2021; Pictured in his native Dunmurry, Belfast with his 6th Paralympic gold medal is Allianz' Paralympic brand ambassador Jason Smyth, who won gold in the 100m T13 Final. Allianz Ireland has been a proud sponsor of Paralympics Ireland since 2010 and has partnered with Jason for 6 years. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***

6 September 2021; Pictured in his native Dunmurry, Belfast with his 6th Paralympic gold medal is Allianz' Paralympic brand ambassador Jason Smyth, who won gold in the 100m T13 Final. Allianz Ireland has been a proud sponsor of Paralympics Ireland since 2010 and has partnered with Jason for 6 years. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***

6 September 2021; Pictured in his native Dunmurry, Belfast with his 6th Paralympic gold medal is Allianz' Paralympic brand ambassador Jason Smyth, who won gold in the 100m T13 Final. Allianz Ireland has been a proud sponsor of Paralympics Ireland since 2010 and has partnered with Jason for 6 years. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***

If you are ever invited to an audience with Ireland’s greatest track athlete of all time in his Derry home, don’t expect to be confronted with a dazzling display of his gold medals.

While it might be reasonable to expect the odd image on the walls of his glory days at the London 2012 Paralympics, or maybe a few framed gold medals from a career that singles him out as one of Ireland’s most iconic sporting heroes, Jason Smyth is not the type to revel in his glories.

The great champions are built differently from the rest of us and this explains why the athlete — who has claimed a remarkable 21 gold medals for Ireland over the course of a career — prefers to keep his achievements hidden from view.

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Allianz brand ambassador and six-time Paralympic gold medallist Jason Smyth. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Allianz brand ambassador and six-time Paralympic gold medallist Jason Smyth. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Allianz brand ambassador and six-time Paralympic gold medallist Jason Smyth. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

In fact, this 100m king doesn’t even look back on achievements that have seen him stand on the top of the podium with ruthless consistency since 2006, as he told us that his sumptuous medal haul is deliberately banished from sight.

“My medals are in a cardboard box in the attic,” confirmed Smyth with a smile, in an exclusive Teams interview with the Sunday World in association with Allianz.

“My approach has always been simple. As an athlete, you don’t stop and look back, so if you start bringing out the medals, then you start to move on to what has happened as opposed to what comes next.

“Once I’m done, maybe I will look back to appreciate it more, but my attitude has always been to focus on what comes next and not what has gone and that’s why my medals are where they are.

“Also, I don’t like talking about me and putting my medals out for people to see would lead to that.”

Smyth’s outlook is shared by many of sport’s great winners, with the drive for more success the ingredient that helped them achieve their iconic status, and that is certainly what Smyth now has.

He chuckles at the notion that he is now firmly in the mix to be recognised as the greatest Irish sportsman of all time, as such accolades don’t sit comfortably with this 34-year-old.

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“It’s an incredible statement to be even in the mix in that debate, but I’ve never been somebody who takes statements like that too seriously,” says Smyth, as he is asked whether he sees himself as one of Ireland’s ultimate champions.

“At the end of the day, records and titles and statements come and go. For me, sometimes all of that stuff that surrounds what comes with being successful is not for me.

“I like to focus on what I can do and I’m only as good as my last race and if you go away from that and get caught up on the hype, it’s very easy to go away from that and get distracted from what you need to do.

“What I’ve done quite well is not look at what I’ve done and always come back to what I need to do to be better next year.

“It’s easy saying that and sometimes harder to do it, but I wouldn’t have been in this sport for 17 years and won the medals I have done if I didn’t keep thinking that way.”

Smyth admits his sporting gifts rescued him from what he feared would be a challenging life after he was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease and officially confirmed as blind at the age of eight.

It was a medical verdict that ended his first sporting dream of playing soccer for Liverpool, but athletics has given him a life and career he could never have imagined when his initial diagnosis left him reeling.

“There is a huge period of needing to find acceptance of your disability when you are first diagnosed,” said Smyth, who has five-to-ten per cent of vision due to his condition.

“I never told people at school about my eye problem, even though they all know I needed help, or needed to sit close to people or have a bigger font for reading.

“The whole thing about being at school is trying to blend in and hiding any problem you have. That’s because I had not accepted it at that stage.

“What sport did for me is change that attitude. I had to learn to accept it and be comfortable with my condition, and while that was very difficult at times, it was only through sport that I accepted it.

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Jason crosses the line first at the Tokyo Paralympics.

Jason crosses the line first at the Tokyo Paralympics.

Jason crosses the line first at the Tokyo Paralympics.

This journey in sport has seen Jason constantly shining a light on the one thing he was trying to hide and that allowed him to accept it and move on.

“My running shifted my mindset to look to the future and hopefully people with disabilities can see what we do at the Paralympics and it inspires them to reach that acceptance.”

Smyth suggested the delayed Tokyo 2020 Paralympics would be his final hurrah on the international stage for Ireland, but now this unbreakable champion is flirting with the idea of one last run at Paris 2024.

He will spend the next few weeks weighing up that prospect with his wife Elise as they spend some welcome family time with their children Evie (5) and Lottie (3), yet Smyth dares to dream of a fifth successive 100m gold medal at the Paralympics.

“I was saying before Tokyo that from a motivational perspective, I’d want to go to Paris, but can I do it at the age of 37?

“That’s the question I have to ask,” added the athlete, who has dominated the T13 category for 15 years.

“After these Games, I always said I’d stop, reflect and talk to those around me that do a lot of the work to help me to do this job, but the fact that it’s only three years instead of four makes it more tempting.

“All of a sudden, you think that this time next year we will only be two years away and the fact that I’ve had a tough year with injuries, I still ran a time in the low 10.5s in Tokyo makes me think I can go quicker.

“The balance is around my family. This is a 24/7 job and you never switch out of it and at some point, you can’t keep going on and there is another chapter of your life.”

Champions of Smyth’s ilk never throw in the towel when they believe more glory is within reach and as Ireland’s ultimate champion contemplates what comes next, a final dart for golden glory in a green jersey will surely be too much to resist.

Jason Smyth won gold in the 100m T13 Final at the Tokyo Paralympic Games and Allianz Ireland has been a proud sponsor of Paralympics Ireland since 2010 and has partnered with Jason for six years.

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