The Paralympic gold medalist on breaking records and running well for London 2012
When asked to chose what has been his greatest achievement to date, middle distance runner Michael McKillop, who has cerebral palsy, doesn’t take long to make up his mind – and it isn’t winning the 800 metres gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics for Ireland.
'Without a doubt, it has to be the two world records I set in January at the IPC World Championships in New Zealand,' says the 21-year old Belfast-based athlete. It is not that winning in Bejing is dismissed out of hand, it is more that his successes of 2011, at both 800 (1’57.3”) and 1500 metres (4’14.7”), is an indicator of what he can aim for in the years ahead.
'To be honest, after I returned from New Zealand I needed to take a break and it’s only now that I’m getting back into training. London 2012 is [here]. It doesn’t matter what I’ve achieved in the Paralympics. When I step on the track, I’m just another runner.'
But, nevertheless, as London looms large, McKillop has already set his sights on two goals. 'I want to retain my 800 metres crown. But now that the 1,500 metres has been brought into the Paralymics I want to win that as well and come home with two gold medals.'
When it comes to the high end of athletics – mainstream or paralympian – the work rate and physical effort that goes into the training programme is much the same. 'To win a gold medal, it’s all about the quality of the training. It doesn’t matter who you are,' says McKillop.
'Michael is very determined,' adds his coach, and father, Paddy McKillop, head of PE at St Malachy’s College, Belfast. 'There is a lot more that he can give. We know that we’re on the right course with his programme.'
In between his training programme and his part-time work in the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland at Jordanstown, the younger McKillop is involved in disability sport road shows. 'It’s good to be able to do this because it shows others what can be achieved. I’ve had success. So has Jason Smyth. Others can follow what we’ve managed,' he states.
'To be perfectly honest we are good role models not only for paralmypic sports, but for all sport. Ireland doesn’t have that many Paralympic or Olympic champions, and if what we have achieved can inspire even one person in Ireland, it’s worth it.'
But as both parent and coach, Paddy McKillop can never forget that his son has a medical condition and he knows just how far he can go in managing his training regime. 'There is a fine line and it’s a moveable feast. I know what to watch out for with his weakness. I have to manage the number of miles that he does.’
And, as his son continues to flourish in the sporting arena, Paddy considers whether his feelings as a coach are outweighed by his pride as a parent in what his son has achieved. 'I suppose when you step back as a parent there is that sense of knowing that your child is well balanced and is involved in a healthy pursuit.
'With cerebral palsy, there were only certain things Michael could do and running was one of them. He’s done very well and is giving of his best. That for us as parents is the most pleasing thing.'