Paralympic legend Jason Smyth explains how Kate O’Connor can unleash shock in the heptathlon
By Chris Byfield
Paralympic 100m legend Jason Smyth inspired Northern Irish heptathlete Kate O’Connor to cause an upset at the Commonwealth Games.
Athletics kicks off today at Alexander Stadium in Birmingham with fifty-four gold medals up for grabs.
Notably, the England team will be hoping for a clean first sweep of the heptathlon medals, with Holly Mills, Jade O’Dowda and defending champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson all vying for a podium finish based on their pedigree.
However, Smyth, who won gold in the 100m T13 qualifying at Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016, said Northern Irish star O’Connor could cause an upset and step onto the podium.
Smyth said: ‘I think the wonderful thing for Kate is that she is young, developing, physically fit, continuously improving and sometimes that’s a good position because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain .
“I saw Kate training most weeks here at home while I was at camp with her. I know she has been in very good shape the last few weeks to prepare for the Games.
“There are a few English girls who have scored decent points – obviously Katarina Johnson-Thompson, who everyone knows well.
“She’s the current champion and obviously has huge experience – she’s been there and done it and that can often be very telling in major championships.
“The good thing for Kate is she’s in good shape and she’s in decent shape heading into the Games and now the battle is about getting your head straight and getting your performance and running your runs and to forget the noise.”
O’Connor is competing at his second Commonwealth Games, having finished eighth in the heptathlon on the Gold Coast in 2018.
A year later, the Northern Irish star won silver in the heptathlon at the European U20 Athletics Championships in Borås, Sweden, as she put in strong performances heading into the Games in Commonwealth this year.
Smyth also cited middle-distance runner Ciara Mageean as a potential medalist for Northern Ireland.
The 30-year-old, who specializes in the 800m, is the first Irish woman to run under two minutes in the event, while she also holds national records in the 1,500m and one mile.
Smyth said: “The second most likely [to medal] would be Ciara Mageean. I obviously know that she is in good shape. Ciara had PBs in the 800, so she’s in good shape for the Games.
“She and O’Connor would be the two stars to watch in terms of medals won.”
National Lottery players raise over £30m a week for good causes, including vital funding for sport – from grassroots to elite. Find out how your numbers make incredible reality on: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved using the hashtag: #TNLAthletes.