McKillop was yesterday named as part of Ireland's Paralympic team. Paul Mohan/SPORTSFILE
more than sport

'I have to come back from Rio with a gold medal or else everyone will say it's been a failure for me'

Michael McKillop has come through the other side of four difficult years and now he’s ready to defend his Paralympic title this summer.

FOR ALL THE memorable days, there have been some dark ones along the way for Michael McKillop.

The three-time Paralympic gold medalist has experienced his fair share of success but with it comes expectation.

In the four years since London, the 26-year-old has battled with injury as the frustrations spilled into his everyday life.

But as preparations intensify for his third Games in Rio, McKillop finds himself in a confident frame of mind as he looks to defend his T37 1500m title in Brazil.

“I’m feeling good, feeling confident,” he said yesterday as Ireland’s Paralympic team was announced.

“Whenever I step on a track at a major championships as long as I know I can run quick I know there’s a real opportunity for me to win.

“The build-up is exactly the same as London and so is the expectation. I have to come back with a gold medal or else everyone will regard the Games for me as a failure.

“That sits well with me because I go in expecting myself to win so for me that’s the exciting part, having to live up to people’s expectations. Once you do win the gold medal it showcases that I am the best and I have done my country proud.”

Michael McKillop celebrates winning gold McKillop receiving his medal in London. Courtney Crow / INPHO Courtney Crow / INPHO / INPHO

McKillop knows what that feeling is like. His CV is furnished with titles from all the major events and those three Paralympic gold medals sit top of the list.

The Antrim athlete, who suffers from cerebral palsy, won gold in the 800m T37 event in Beijing and London as well as the 1500m four years ago.

One of the abiding images from London was the moment when McKillop was presented with his medal by his mother.

It’s a memory that will live long in the memory and something which helped him get through those dark days.

“The previous two years were mentally a tough time,” he continued. “With the support of my fiancee and the rest of my family, they got me through.

“2014/15 season was pretty much a no-goer. My mental health wasn’t good. I wasn’t in a good place personally. I got away with it at the European and World Championship through talent rather than hard work, I was lucky.

“But going into Rio I know it’s going to be a huge test and I have to be prepared to dig deep. I know there are a few athletes out there looking to beat me and I just need to focus on that and perform well on the day.”

McKillop is part of a 44-strong Ireland team heading to the Games, which starts on 7 September. The squad contains plenty of new faces but he has been there and seen it all before.

But the runner remains as determined and as hungry as ever with the prospect of standing on the podium in Rio’s Olympic Stadium driving him on.

“When I wake up every morning I go training I think of that moment,” he admits.

“That training session is one day closer to me winning a gold medal. It’s one day closer to competing for that gold medal and if you don’t believe it you can’t win. I wouldn’t go around shouting and screaming that I am going to win the gold medal but I see myself as going to competitive and wanting to win that gold medal.

“It’s not for me, not for my family but for every country man and lady within the island of Ireland and that for me is the key element now. There’s more to just running around a track, it’s promoting Paralympic sport.”

McKillop’s family have always played a huge part in his success, a support network he describes as ‘Team McKillop.’

But once he boards the plane on 23 August, he will be flying solo with his family and friends unable to travel to lend their support this time around.

As he says himself, he’s going out there to do the job and it doesn’t matter if there’s people on the ground or there’s nobody there. He blocks it all out anyway.

“Mentally I’m probably in the best place possible. I’m now prepared and focused on one thing and one thing only that’s trying to win a gold medal in Rio and I think going in with a good mental mindset, knowing what I have to do and setting small goals to achieve the main goal in Rio is a key element of why I think is why I’ve been successful over so many years.

“I’ll block everything out. I’ll be emotional leading up to the race and then I’ll have no emotions getting on the track. The only emotion I’ll have is the goal that is that medal.

“Apart from that as soon as come across the line I’ll be emotional, I’ll be happy but up until then I’ll block everything out. Stern-faced and determined but someone that wants to win for their country.”

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Three world champions and two Paralympic champions included in Ireland team for Rio

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