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united aim 'I'm trying to do everyone on island of Ireland proud' - Michael McKillop's Paralympic goal

Michael's latest bid for a podium place begins with the 1500m T38 heats at the Tokyo National Stadium on Friday

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Middle distance Runner and Paralympian Michael McKillop during the Allianz Courage Chronicles at Cruagh Woods in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***

Middle distance Runner and Paralympian Michael McKillop during the Allianz Courage Chronicles at Cruagh Woods in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***

Middle distance Runner and Paralympian Michael McKillop during the Allianz Courage Chronicles at Cruagh Woods in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile *** NO REPRODUCTION FEE ***

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 Paralympics, Ballymena-born athletics hero McKillop, who has cerebral palsy, is now in Tokyo with his sights set on further medal glory. He may hail from the North, 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.

He says: "I grew up in a mixed area and some of my good friends are Protestants. 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 Paralympics 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 adds. "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 my plan 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. "I'm lucky to be backed by the Irish Sports Council, who have backed me for so long and that is complemented by companies like Allianz," he says.

"It has been good 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."

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

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