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Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Wednesday, 3 September 2008 16:18 UK

McKillop mission

By John Haughey

Michael McKillop
Belfast lad Michael McKillop is the 800m T37 world champion

The long wait for Michael McKillop is almost over.

On Tuesday, the 18-year-old will begin his quest for a gold medal in the T37 800m heats at the Paralympics in the remarkable Bird's Nest Stadium.

By Wednesday evening, Michael will hope to have added Paralympic gold to the 800m world title that he secured in Assen, Holland two years ago.

After illness and injury caused the Belfast lad some disquiet in the Spring, the 800m world record-holder's preparations have gone well over the course of the summer.

He won the 800m world title two years ago with a clocking just over two minutes and two seconds.

But McKillop has a personal best of 1:57.3 is his locker and he knows that if he runs to his optimum level, it is going to take a tremendous performance to finish ahead of him.

"Since winning the World Championships, I've got physically and mentally stronger," McKillop tells BBC Sport Interactive.

"When I get on to the track, I know that I am capable of running a 1:57 and that the Paralympians have to go with me."

He doesn't say it but the implication is that it remains to be seen whether the other top contenders will be able to handle that turn of speed.

You would love to break the world record but it's about winning medals

Michael McKillop

Not that Michael, who has a mild form of Cerebral Palsy, will be bothered by slow, tactical racing in Beijing.

He has that gift that all middle-distance and indeed, distance runners crave. The kick that enables one to sit tight before unleashing a devastating finishing burst.

"The Olympics and the Paralympics aren't all about times.

"You would love to break the world record but it's about winning medals.

"Really my plan would be to sit off it and come through.

"I've been told by my coach that I have a natural kick and I can turn it on with 200m to go but I can also wind it up from about 400m out and make it hard on the opposition."

The coach that Michael mentions matter-of-factly is actually his father Paddy, who happens to be the current overall Northern Ireland Sports Coach of the Year.

"He has coached me from the age of 10. I went to St Malachy's College when I was 12 and I've been in the St Malachy's group since then."

Under John Morrin's guidance, the north Belfast school emerged as a national and international force in distance running in the 1980s and 1990s with the likes of Gareth Turnbull, Conor Sweeney, Colm McLean and Joe McAllister all coming up through the ranks.

Irish sprint hopeful Jason Smyth
Derryman Jason Smyth is expected to win medals in Beijing

McKillop senior took the college coaching reins in the early part of this decade and the school's running prowess has been maintained.

"I'm fighting for my position in the St Malachy's group with the able-bodied athletes. They make it hard for me but it brings me on in the long run," says Michael.

The Glengormley lad's world title two years ago ensured funding from the Irish Sports Council and any medical or training needs are largely looked after as well.

Michael and his fellow "northern boy" Jason Smyth, as they have been dubbed by their team-mates, will be the big hopes of the Irish track and field squad in Beijing.

Smyth claimed the 100m and 200m world championship double in Assen and will be an even stronger favourite than McKillop to claim gold in Beijing.

Michael admits that he is a little frustrated at not being able to chase two golds in China - a task Smyth will be attempting.

"After the last world championships, the international body looked at the numbers for the 1500m and 800m and decided that there are not enough athletes in the 1500m to make the event viable."

As a result, Michael won't have the chance to right the 1500m wrong of two years ago when he was "bullied and pushed around" in Assen before launching a late charge to claim silver.

"But I came out two days later and won the 800m so I wasn't disappointed."

606: DEBATE

Like several of his Irish team-mates Michael was able to sample life in Beijing for a couple of weeks last September when he travelled to the Chinese capital on a preparation visit.

"It was enough time to feel the Olympic vibe and what's to come.

"We had two days in Beijing centre for things like shopping. We went to an acrobatics show.

"We went to Tianamen Square and the amount of people that was there was unbelievable.

"There will be none of that sightseeing before my competition but I will be there for another six or seven days after my event so I will try to enjoy myself then."

At 18 years of age, Michael looks capable of competing in a couple of more Paralympics and he admits that he has already mapped out his competitive plans as London 2012 approaches.

"Hopefully, Beijing goes to plan and I come back with a bit of success.

"After Beijing, I will be thinking about the 2010 World Championships in New Zealand.

"In 2011, there are the European Championships back in Assen in Holland. That will be a special place for me to go back to."

But for the moment, Beijing is the word. Expect McKillop to deliver.



see also
Disability sport on the BBC
23 Apr 08 |  Paralympics


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