RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – Austin Smeenk finally made it to the Paralympics in Rio, even though he had the choice to go four years ago in London.
Smeenk, 19, was only 15 years old when he qualified for the 2012 London Paralympic Games, but elected not to compete.
Even though at times he was not sure if he made the right choice, he believes that it was the right decision in the end.
“I had times where I wish that I had gone,” said Smeenk, after the men’s 100m – T34 final at Olympic Stadium.
“I didn’t compete that strongly in Doha (Qatar) earlier this year in October, but overall I think it was a wise decision, it made me hungry for these Games and kept everything from going to my head.”
Smeenk was not expecting to qualify for London and was not sure what he was going to do.
“At my first trials, I was 15 years old and I wasn’t competing to go to the (Para)lympics, I was just going to go to my first big event,” he said. “We were sitting there domestically, in Canada, and they asked me if I wanted to go represent Canada in London.
“Of course I wanted to go do that, but my coach didn’t think it was the best idea.”
That reasoning was simple, Smeenk had never been outside of Canada – let alone Ontario.
Together, they decided that it was not in the best interest of him at this point in his career, and they chose to stay in Canada, train, and prepare for Rio down the road.
On Monday, the Oakville, Ont. native finally competed in his first Paralympic final event.
In the men’s 100m -T34 final, Smeenk got off to a slow start en route to a sixth place finish. His 16.21 was almost a full second off gold medal winner Walid Ktila, from Tunisia.
“At the start line I was really hoping to come out of the gate a little stronger and then be able to run it out and stick with the pack a little better,” he said. “I didn’t have the greatest start and it led to a negative outcome in the race.”
Although it was not the result he was hoping for, the real prize for him sits at the end of the 800m final.
“Overall, the idea of this race was just to have kind of a warm up for the 800 which starts (Tuesday),” he said. “In that regard, I got all the nerves out and am feeling ready to compete.”
Smeenk will race in the first heat of the men’s 800m -T34 on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. local time, 11:30 ET.