Event: High Jump
When: Sunday, August 29 at 11am (Irish time)
When Jordan started off on this journey, it seemed like an audacious ambition at the outset – but Lee isn’t any ordinary athlete in many ways, and he hasn’t been alone on this journey.
“My family have always been very supportive of anything I have done, my mother Mary, my stepfather Dermot, my dad Jarlath, and my brothers and sisters and all my extended family. I can never say enough about how much help and support Tomás Griffin is to me. Myself and Tomás are travelling out together, and he’s far more than just my coach,” Lee told The Kerryman the day before he left for Tokyo.
“I’ve been lucky as well to have great support from Killarney and all of Kerry as my horizons have broadened, they have helped me every step of the way. I’ve also been lucky to have Circle K Ireland sponsoring me since 2019 and I’m delighted that the likes of Kellihers Garage in Tralee helped me so much along this way, Tim and the lads are always great to deal with.”
It isn’t quite down to business from the moment the plane hits the Tokyo tarmac.
“We’ll be spending the first week in a holding camp in Narita, about half an hour away from the Olympic Village, acclimatising. Then we’ll move into the Village itself where we’ll get to experience the buzz and excitement. I think it’s a good move by the Irish team manager, James Nolan, to give us that bit of space to get our bearings before we move to the Olympic Village.
“There are eight of us on the team, four men and four women. You have people like Jason Smyth, the second fastest Irishman ever – he ran the 100 metres in 10.20 seconds. You also have Michael McKillop, nine times World Champion, possibly the greatest Paralympian ever. It’s great to have people like that beside you. Like me, they love to cross over and compete successfully in able-bodied competitions and I’d like to continue that legacy when they eventually do step down,” Lee said.
“I’m sure Japan is going to be very different from our culture and a great experience. I wouldn’t think about it too much, it’s something that’s out of my control anyway. I’m just looking forward to the games. Japan actually have a great understanding of paralympic sports, they have a great awareness of the interaction between human physiology and technology. They have a great enthusiasm for the Games; I honestly think that Tokyo could have been as big a success as London 2012 if crowds were allowed at events.”
Of course, that, alas, isn’t remotely possible. One threat above all others hangs over athletes these days, and not just athletes. “I am in a careful bubble, mainly just my family. I have to be very careful. If I get Covid I am, of course, straight off the team, there can be no question about that. And the Covid testing is so sensitive you can get a false positive, that’s another risk. But look, there’s no point in being obsessive about it. You can only do the best you can,” the Killarney man said.
Mind you, that particular cloud came with a silver lining for Jordan Lee. “I’ve been able to work and improve on a number of things such as my run-ups and my technique. I’m after getting much faster and stronger since the start of the pandemic. Back then I was squatting 100kg using a support frame, now I’m doing 200kg without the frame. Obviously it’s great to be able to get stronger and faster, but it brings its own challenges as well. The change in muscle distribution and movement means that you have to change technically as well. I’ve worked hard on both and I feel that I’m close to ‘clicking’, producing the best kind of performance I can.”
Certainly Jordan’s form in the European Paralympic Championships is a good sign. He came fourth in possibly the strongest field ever for the event, with Russian Georgii Margiev taking the title. Most people would see that as a massive achievement, but the standards the 21-year-old sets himself he sees it as one that got away.
“I ended up fourth but I was just one centimetre away from second,” he says ruefully. “Look, I can seem a bit harsh, I suppose, when I achieve things, but I’m just focussed on improving and concentrating on the next step. To be honest, I’ve just turned 21 and I’m lucky to live the life I do, so I think it’s important for me to remember that every now and again.”
Lee has focussed firmly on his goal for three years. Essentially, it will all culminate in a combined jumping time of thirty seconds. It’s that fast.
“In a way, qualification is nearly harder for the Paralympics, because you have to qualify for the final straightaway. There are no heats. There will be eight to ten of us lined up in the final.
“I don’t focus on other athletes too much, I concentrate on my own efforts, but I’d know the rankings and have a fair idea who to watch out for. You have to – the high jump is very strategic. Someone whose PB (personal best) is 190 is likely to start at around 175cm, someone whose PB is 2m is likely to start at 190cm. If two jumpers finish at the same height, it goes to countback and that involves how many jumps you took, i.e. how low you started at (more is better, but saps a lot of energy) or how many attempts you took (less is better).
“I remember being at the University Games and myself and another competitor just had no idea which one of us was in the medals. Thankfully, it was me, but it could just as easily have gone the other way.”
Jordan Lee carries a lot of hopes and dreams on that plane to Tokyo right now. And not just his own.