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Light-hearted Irish runner Michael McKillop is preparing for one of the biggest races of his life.
The Ulsterman takes part in the men’s 1500m T38 final tomorrow morning chasing his another Paralympic medal – but he will have to do so in some unusual circumstances.
Close friend Jason Smyth, who won his sixth Paralympic gold last Sunday, will not be by his side this time around. The two decorated Team Ireland runners roomed together at previous Games and Jason’s race was always before Michael’s. As a result, a brilliantly successful ritual developed whereby Smyth would leave his gold medal hanging in their room to motivate McKillop.
Michael McKillop must prepare for Paralympic final without Jason Smyth
Not only that, as on the morning of Michael’s races, Jason would usually walk the track with him to help keep him calm. The two athletes established a great bond with one another over the years and after winning their first gold medals at Beijing 2008 they went on to star at both London 2012 and Rio 2016. This year however, because of COVID regulations, Jason is already home and won’t be on hand to assist McKillop ahead of the final.
“It certainly will [be strange],” 34-year-old Smyth told Pundit Arena. “We’ve talked about it as well, it’s strange not to be there and then obviously for him not having me there as company. It helps to keep him relaxed and switched off from things. But I’ll certainly be watching. Michael’s in a good place so hopefully on Saturday things can go well and he can execute his race.”
Michael McKillop determined to win another gold medal
McKillop had similar feelings, as although he would like to have his good friend by his side, he is nevertheless focused and determined to perform to the best of his abilities in the 1500m final.
“We’re best friends, we’ve been together since the start. We were found on the same day in Dublin at age 15 and 17, we’ve been to every championship together, we’ve roomed together and we’ve won medals together.
“I think 2019 was really tough, tough for me because I didn’t win a medal and tough for Jason because though he won his gold medal, ordinarily we’d both win medals and we’d celebrate together. So he was being slightly more sensitive and I told him to wise up! Because that’s how sport goes.”
It’s been a long journey for both Paralympians who have been good friends since meeting each other as teenagers almost 20 years ago. Considering Smyth’s recent injuries which caused a tense final and McKillop’s unusual preparation for tomorrow’s race however, success in Tokyo could prove their sweetest Paralympic success yet.