Northern Ireland news

International career of multi-gold medallist Michaal McKillop comes to gut-wrenching end

Michael McKillop (centre) of Ireland is consoled following the Men's 1500m

ON a rain-drenched track in Toyko the international career of one of Ireland's most decorated Paralympic athletes came to a gut-wrenching end.

Four-time gold medallist Michael McKillop was left devastated by his final race on the world stage, finishing eighth in the 1500m.

Friends, family, team mates and rivals have all hailed him as a legend, hero, inspiration and ambassador.

There was widespread admiration as well for his post-race interview.

An anguished McKillop faced the camera with dignity after suffering an upsetting personal moment.

Still processing what had happened on the track, he gave a composed, honest and mature assessment of his race and future plans.

Until recently, everything the North Belfast Harriers middle-distance runner touched had turned to gold.

A World Championship 800m title in Assen in the Netherlands in 2006 was followed by a first Paralympic gold, in the same distance, in Beijing. He was still a teenager.

There followed three more world championship wins and he also stood atop the podium at the London (800m,1500m) and Rio (1500m) Paralympic games.

Heading into Tokyo, the now 31-year-old's expectations were realistic. Enforced changes of category had already made his task more difficult.

He has a mild form of Cerebral Palsy and had dominated the T37 category. A reclassification in 2019 saw him moved into the T38 class, which meant racing athletes with less of a physical impairment.

McKillop was in tears seconds after crossing the finish line on Saturday.

His competitors quickly acknowledged the significance of the moment, holding his arms aloft and embracing him.

Australia's Deon Kenzie interrupted McKillop's RTÉ interview to tell viewers he considered the former St Malachy's man "the GOAT (greatest of all-time) of Paralympic athletics".

"We all look up to this guy, he's a true legend," he added.

McKillop could not hide his disappointment.

"When you come to your Paralympic games, the pinnacle of everyone's career, to falter like I did is upsetting more than anything. It was going to be my last Paralympic games anyway but to go out like that, to lose my unbeaten streak is heartbreaking," he told RTÉ.

"I started my journey back in 2005, I won my first world title in 2006 and I'm still going. Sadly this year wasn't to be. I've been so successful and enjoyed my journey."

He thanked all those who had aided him including his dad and coach Paddy.

"My wife has given up so much time and effort for me, sacrificed so much for me, and I think it's time to give back to my wife and my dogs Edgar and Nala – I can't wait to see you. They put a smile on my face – my family, my friends – and I'll never forget my time in Paralympic sport if it is to be the end," he added.

"I just want to hold my head up high, knowing I've given everything to my sport. I've given strength and honour to every single Irish person, Northern Irish person. I represent the island of Ireland, and I'm proud to say that. To run around and represent the flag is a very, very special thing. Not many people get to do it. I've had the privilege to do that for 16 years."

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