Michael McKillop takes second consecutive gold medal in Rio
MICHAEL McKillop lifted his second consecutive gold medal in T37 1500m at the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro after seeing off the opposition over the final 200m.
It was also Ireland’s second gold, third medal in total, of the Games and followed the success of room mate Jason Smyth who scorched to a hat-trick of victories in the T13 100m on Friday afternoon.
McKillop lined up on the outside of the eight-man final as the thermometer climbed toward 30 degrees but it was Algeria’s Madjid Djemai who rushed into an early lead when the gun fired.
Djemai led through a brisk opening lap of 66 seconds with McKillop looking relaxed five metres back in the main pack along with his main danger Liam Stanley from Canada.
The Glengormley man moved into the lead as they approached the two-lap mark in 2:18 with former footballer Stanley dogging his every stride. The positions remained the same as the bell sounded in 3:09 with Stanley taking closer order.
The pair were still together with just 300m to run but the North Belfast Harrier kept the pressure on down the backstraight for the last time and when he kicked entering the last furlong, the Canadian had no answer.
McKillop kept up the pressure around the bend as Stanley wilted under the strain and heat before striding out for an impressive victory in 4:12.11. The 19-year-old Canadian held on for second in 4:16.72 and the game Djemai was rewarded for his early bravery with the bronze medal in 4:17.28.
It was McKillop’s fourth Paralympic gold medal after winning the 800m in Beijing followed by an 800/1500m double in London. At 26-years-old, hopefully he will have the opportunity to win more in the future but not in Rio where his 1500m has been cut from the programme.
“The last three years have been tough up until 2015 and then everything was going so smoothly and we had a blip about five weeks ago,” explained McKillop.
“It was tough to get here but once again my coach, my dad, and my fiancée worked very hard to get me here. Five weeks ago I ran 4:30 in an able-bodied race and I haven’t run that slow since I was 15 years of age and it was because I was low in vitamin B12. So to get me back fit, I couldn’t get out of bed some days. It was tough but in positive ways I’ve come here and defended my title and done my country proud again.
“I’m proud to represent North and South, everyone from each community. It doesn’t matter about religion, it doesn’t matter about faith, it doesn’t matter about anything, I represented the island of Ireland.”
Orla Comerford was also in action on the track finishing eight in the T13 100m final with a time of 12.87. On Saturday, Greta Streimikyte had performed well to fnish fifth in the T13 1500m with a personal best of 4:45.06 – that was later upgraded to fourth when the Mexican competitor was disqualified. The race was won by Tunisia’s Bousaid who ran a fantastic 4:21.45 in a gun to tape victory.
“It was a fast race and I still need time to process what happened,” said Streimikyte who only came to Ireland from Lithuania six years ago. “But it was a fast race and I did a PB (personal best) that is great you know.
“The race pace ruined my tactics because in the heats I led the field but here, the field led me and I had to push. It is a championship race and you never know. I am happy and look forward to Tokyo.”
Earlier Eoghan Clifford had taken a bronze medal for Ireland in the velodrome when he had finished third in C3 Individual Pursuit after an entertaining and competitive race-off against Canada’s Michael Sametz.
Clifford had qualified in fourth position for and, despite a niggling knee problem, pulled out an early lead over the younger Canadian rider which he maintained for the rest of the race.
“I didn’t really win that because I’ve better legs, I was in agony from the start with my knee and stuff, I won it because I felt I would let so many people down if I didn’t medal today,” said the 36-year-old Galway man.
Also in the velodrome, Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal took fifth in the Individual B Pursuit qualifiers failed to reach the bronze medal face-off. Damien Vereker and Sean Hahessy were eighth in the Individual B 1km Time Trial.
In the pool Bethany Firth stayed on course for a second gold medal when she easily negotiated yesterday’s S14 200m Freestyle semi-final. There will be no medals for Ailbhe Kelly who finished fifteenth overall in the S8 100m Freestyle nor Ellen Keane who fell short in the SM9 200m IM final after finishing fourth in her heat.
Catherine Walsh and Fran Meehan finished eighth overall in the triathlon after overhauling the Japanese competitors on the final run section.