DUBAI, UAE – Wheelchair racer Austin Smeenk hopes he can put his best race together in the T34 800-m final which goes on Friday at the World Para Athletics Championships.
The 22-year-old from Oakville, Ont. has enjoyed the best season of his career so far in 2019, a long year which he hopes will conclude with another top-five finish. So far this week he has posted fifth place finishes in the 100-m and 400-m.
‘’I don’t really have a preferred event right now because I’m tuning in on different aspects of my races,’’ said Smeenk, following a training session in Dubai. ‘’I’ve had good starts in the sprints and my tactics and endurance have improved in the longer distance stuff.’’
So far this season Smeenk has lowered Canadian records in the 100m, 400m, 800m and 1500m. He’s held the 200m mark since 2017.
With the worlds set in the desert dealing with heat has been a big focus in 2019 for Smeenk. He started the year training and competing in Australia for three weeks in January. Then he headed to Dubai for the month of February before crossing the ocean for another few weeks of heat and humidity in Florida.
‘’Coming in here having done a bit of heat acclimatization gives you an edge tactically not only for these worlds but the Paralympics in Tokyo as well,’’ said Smeenk, whose best result at the previous three worlds was a fourth place in the 100m in 2017.
It was in Florida where Smeenk acquired a much-needed new racing chair which perfectly complemented his training regimen.
‘’The main difference is the chair fits me better and it’s more rigid,’’ said Smeenk, born with spastic paraplegia, a hereditary disease that causes progressive stiffness and contraction in the lower limbs. ‘’As the chairs age they are not as solid and that can affect speed.’’
‘’I’ve had a killer season,’’ he said. ‘’I’m going faster everyday and I’m really, really happy with the equipment and the training so far.
The World Para Athletics Championships are the largest Para sport event to be held before the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and run from November 7 to 15 in Dubai. More than 1,400 athletes from almost 120 nations are competing.
Viewers will be able to follow the action via the free CBC Gem streaming service, cbcsports.ca, the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices, and CPC Facebook page, as well as the Radio-Canada Sports app and radio-canada.ca/sports.
For the broadcast schedule, please visit Paralympic.ca/Paralympic-Super-Series.