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A crestfallen Michael McKillop spoke to Pundit Arena’s Marisa Kennedy after finishing eight in this morning’s Men’s 1500m T38 final in Tokyo.
The legendary Irish runner was competing in the new mixed category at this year’s Games and admited he was incredibly dissapointed not to add to his medal haul.
“I went out and had to follow the pack,” said the four-time Paralympic gold medalist. “I did exactly what I…I thought I did really good. I set myself up to be in the mix and yeah, I just had literally nothing in my legs after about 600 metres and I just seemed to get away further and further and further.
“I feel like…I have let my dad down. It’s just his last year and I wanted to give him something back. I know he’s got a lot but after my surgery and getting through all that crap he got me back into the shape where I was going to be competitive. That’s why I came, I knew I was going to be competitive, so for me not being able to be competitive in races like this shows you that it’s moved on.”
Michael McKillop disappointed to no longer have his T37 catergory
In the previous three Paralympic games McKillop won gold in the T37 events but was unable to be as competitve against a field with a range of impairments. The classifcation difference for the two categories means the Antrim man is against athletes with a physical advantage.
T37 – Athletes have moderate hypertonia, ataxia or athetosis in one half of the body. T38 – Athletes have clear evidence of hypertonia, ataxia and/or athetosis on physical assessment that will affect running. Co-ordination impairment is mild to moderate and can be in one to four limbs.
“Unfortunately obviously it’s disppointing not having my category anymore but that’s how it is. Everyone has to deal with it. The crap thing for me was I lost my unbeaten streak in T37 and that’s probably the thing that hurts me the most. Liam Stanley the kid that beat me, he was meant to be winning gold today, he was meant to be the one taking over my crown and unfortunately he didn’t get that.
Michael McKillop refuses to make excuses for Tokyo performance
“He’s an incredible athlete. He’s 3:47 for a reason. He’s one of the best Para athletes time-wise, not only in my class. He’s a mile ahead of everyone else. But yeah, I guess it’s just unfortunate that it had to happen like this.
“I can’t say that I haven’t had any races. I had a a few races that went really well. I ran 4:03 in July, I ran really well. I think 3:58 won it, I don’t know what second and third was, but it would have put me in the mix. I should have been able to run that pace comfortably. James just said to follow them through, follow them through. I did that for the first 500 metres and the next 100 metres they just took off and it was like ‘where have yous gone?’.
“I didn’t have any spring, I didn’t have any pop, whatever you want to call it. It just left me frustrated because I knew I was in good shape and that’s sport.”
Michael McKillop discusses the mental impact of his intense career
“The most frustrating thing is losing my category. IPC are changing the game. changing categories and not giving guys with a severe impairment compared to another category a chance to compete against one another. Like I said, Liam should be winning gold tonight. He was meant to be the future and he still could be in the mixed class but he should be the main man.
“And that’s why rest in peace 37 because our category has been taken away but that’s just the way Para-sport is and I’m not going to be bitter. I’m not going to be bitter about the athletes I’m competiting with. That’s the class we were put in and we got to run it. It’s just sad that we’re seeing categoreies being dismantled and I;m losing out on chances to win golds or silvers in my category.
“I think after sixteen or seventeen years or whatever it’s been, I’m mentally drained from having to get myself up worrying. I have to be in the lead, I have to be in the pack, I have to be this and whenever you’re playing catch-up after a couple of years of rubbish, it takes it’s toll. I have fought through mental health in the past but this is a contributing factor to why mental health can be so determintal to athletes. It’s tough but you gotta be strong to be in this game and I guess I’m not the best athlete anymore and I have to accept that, that’s sport.”