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Sporting hero: Our gold run

Athletic champion Michael McKillop has his eyes firmly set on winning his fourth Paralympic gold medal with the Irish team in Tokyo, writes Kevin Palmer

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Michael McKillop is ready to win more gold in Tokyo.

Michael McKillop is ready to win more gold in Tokyo.

Michael McKillop is ready to win more gold in Tokyo.

Sport has the power to unite a nation like nothing else and Michael McKillop is a shining example of that.

After winning gold for Ireland in the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics, Ballymena-born athletics hero McKillop is now in Tokyo with his sights set on more medal glory in the Ireland Paralympic team.

He may hail from the north of Ireland, but this serial winner admits the age-old divides are wiped away in sport, as collective pride is shared when our sporting heroes bring home medals.

“I grew up in a mixed area and some of my good friends are Protestants,” he begins.

“Where I come from, everyone bases your allegiance to your religion, but I have always been completely against that.

“I’m trying to do everyone on the island of Ireland proud when I wear the green jersey in a big competition.

“No questions are asked about who you are and what you are when you are part of athletics in Northern Ireland and I love that.

“We saw with Rory McIlroy representing Ireland in the Olympics in Tokyo. No one judged him for wearing the green jersey and there is a feeling that we are all in this together.”

McKillop will be racing in a different category at this summer’s Paralympic Games and that will have a big impact on his hopes of winning a fourth successive gold medal.

Yet this great champion has never allowed adversity to affect him and as he spoke exclusively to Magazine+, the positivity that has driven his success shone through.

“My category has gone now and I’m racing against guys that have a milder form of illness than me,” he continues. “So I don’t dream of winning gold at this stage, but I do dream of winning a medal.

“I have a good chance of winning a medal if I execute and do what I need to do when it really matters.

“Over the last two years, I feel I have grown as an athlete and got back some of the flair that I had when I was at my best. At 31, the guys up against me now are younger and the challenge is big, but this is why I’m still in the sport and I can’t wait to compete in Tokyo.”

McKillop’s life is very much run on a four-year cycle between Paralympics, with the backing of sponsors vital to allow him to compete.

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“I’m lucky to be backed the Irish Sports Council, who have backed me for so long and that is complemented by companies like Allianz,” he added. “It has been tough through the pandemic for a company like Allianz to continue to support me on my journey to Tokyo because they were sponsoring an athlete who was not competing and wasn’t visible.

“You need that support to have any chance to compete at a big event and now I need to go to this Paralympic Games and make it happen.”

  • Allianz is a brand ambassador and four-time Paralympic gold medallist Michael McKillop

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