World record holder Austin Smeenk keeps track to stay on track

Canadian Paralympic Committee

June 27, 2024

High winds thwart record quests at 2024 Bell Athletics Canada Paralympic Trials.

Canadian wheelchair racer Austin Smeenk resting on his racing wheelchair following a race at the 2024 Athletics Canada Paralympics Trials.

MONTREAL – Wheelchair racing world record holder Austin Smeenk is a model of perseverance in Para sport.

The 27-year-old from Oakville, Ont., is on track to be nominated to his third Paralympic Games team next month, especially since he is currently having the best season of his career. Earlier this month at a Grand Prix in Paris, Smeenk broke the world record in the T34 400m clocking 48.06 seconds and the 800m with a 1:35.59.

On Thursday at the Bell Track and Field Trials, which will help determine Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic teams, Smeenk won the 400 and finished in 51.29 seconds as racers battled strong winds and unseasonably cool conditions at the Claude-Robillard Sports Complex.

‘’The situation today wasn’t ideal to go out and chase records,’’ said Smeenk, born with spastic paraplegia, a hereditary disease that causes progressive stiffness and contraction in the lower limbs.

‘’This was still a great preparation for the Games. I got to race the preliminary in the morning and managed my day well to put in a solid final.’’

T54 racer Isaiah Christophe of Brampton, Ont., was second in 51.40 and T52 Anthony Bouchard of Quebec City third in 1:08.20.

T54 racer Nandini Sharma of Brampton chasing a first Paralympic Games appearance took the women’s 400 wheelchair race 1:02.03 with T53 Jessica Lewis of Bermuda, who trains in Victoria, second at 1:04.78 and Lauren Redwood of Mississauga, Ont., third at 1:25.83.

‘’That was one of the tougher races I’ve had,’’ said Sharma, who won gold in the 100 at the Grand Prix in France. ‘’It was really difficult to get going, I don’t think I ever worked so hard at the start. Thankfully we had a nice tailwind on the last stretch.’’

Nandini Sharma competing at the 2024 Bell Athletics Canada Paralympic Trials.
[Photograph: Brian Rouble / Mundo Sport Images].

Other winners in the Para events included Nate Riech of Victoria in the men’s 1500m, Christel Robichaud of Grande-Digue, N.B., in the women’s discus and Maitlan Knoke of Saskatoon in men’s discus.

‘’The first 200 was really slow so I knew it wasn’t going to be my race,’’ said Riech, who clocked 4:09.84 well off his T38 world mark of 3:47.89 but enough to beat the A standard to book his ticket for Paris. ‘’I usually like to go hard and make people hurt, unfortunately I was the one that was hurting in the last 100.’’

Smeenk is far from an overnight success. In 2012, despite qualifying, he decided skip the Paralympics because he didn’t feel ready. He entered his first world championships in 2013 and by 2017 he was starting to post top five results internationally.

He was sixth in the 100 at Rio 2016 in his Games debut and took fifth in the 800 in Tokyo three years ago. He served notice he is a serious podium contender for Paris 2024 last year. He was  a double medallist at the 2023 World Para Athletics Championships, with silver in the 100m,  and a bronze in the 400m. He narrowly missed the podium in the 800m finishing fourth.

‘’It’s a culmination of everything,’’ said Smeenk, when asked what areas he improved over the last couple of seasons. ‘’It’s not one particular aspect I focus on, it’s all the little things. Of course there is improving my strength and aerobic capacity, adjusting my racing chair and bringing all that together.’’

Smeenk’s advice to athletes who might get frustrated with their progress is to keep records of not only their performances but strategies.

‘’There was a study done after the Rio Games in Australia and a common thread among their Olympic medallists was keeping a journal,’’ he said. ‘’Check back with yourself and then make a plan to close those gaps.

‘’Continue to evaluate what’s working and what needs to be rethought.

 ‘’It keeps your head in the game.’’

The Paris 2024 Paralympic Games will begin with the Opening Ceremony on August 28 and continue through September 8, with coverage of the Games on CBC and CBC Sports and Radio-Canada.

We encourage you to join our CAN Crew cheer squad so that you receive the latest information about the Canadian Paralympic Team on the road to Paris directly to your email inbox. Join today!

The trials continue until Sunday. For more information:

Bell Track and Field Trials Hub


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