Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop defy the injury odds to strike gold at IPC Athletics World Championships
Northern Ireland's golden duo, Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop, once again produced scintillating performances on Saturday night in the desert state of Qatar to add to their ever-increasing gold medal haul at the IPC Athletics World Championships.
Their successes are all the more remarkable coming after injury-hit preparation.
Smyth, from Co Derry, has spent the majority of his season rehabilitating and rebuilding following knee surgery in January, while north Belfast’s 25-year-old McKillop suffered a lengthy lay-off following a fall down stairs.
Ebrington 28-year-old Smyth, rated ‘the fastest Paralympian on planet’, took his fifth World title in the T13 100m for visually-impaired athletes while McKillop snatched a hard-earned sixth title in the T38 800m for competitors with mild cerebal palsy.
Both athletes have now repeated their success from the last World Championships in Lyon two years ago but would not have taken success in Doha for granted given their catalogue of significant injuries earlier this year.
Smyth now has three world titles at 100m and two at 200m. He will not, however, defend his 200m title this year as he flew home immediately to be with his wife, Elise, at the birth of their first baby, due yesterday.
First up on Saturday was Smyth who won his semi-final in commanding fashion in 10.79 secs.
He then turned on the after-burners in the final to record an emphatic victory in 10.62 secs ahead of Brazil’s Gustavo Arauto (10.90 secs) with bronze going to Chad Perris of Australia (10.96 secs).
A delighted Smyth said: “It was great to be here and cross the line first. I’m very happy with my time. You always want to be faster but I got gold and that’s all that matters.”
Following his injury, McKillop had only nine weeks of proper training prior to Doha and knew after his relatively slow win in his 800m semi that his tactical judgment in the final would be crucial.
The St Malachy’s man bravely took the lead at the end of the first lap and then kicked in on the back straight to open a 10ms gap.
He then held on grimly for the final 200m when the opposition started to close him down.
A tiring McKillop held his lead for a one-second victory margin in a season’s best time of 2 mins 1.31 secs. Tunisia’s Abbes Saidi took silver in a PB 2.02.34 with bronze going to Louis Radius of France who also set a PB of 2.05.39.
A relieved Michael, who is coached by his father Paddy, said: “I never thought I would get here after a really horrific injury. This gold means a lot to me. I knew what I had to do. It was a planned performance. There was no winging it, especially when you aren’t 100%. You need to know what you are doing. They were catching me in the home straight. I was hanging on for grim death. My legs were beginning to give way but it shows that if you aren’t 100% these things happen.
“It’s been so tough mentally but thanks to my family, and especially my girlfriend’s support, I am here and I am still unbeaten.”
McKillop will now go for double gold next Friday in the T37 1,500m event.
There was another early success for the small Irish team in Doha with bronze for Niamh McCarthy in the F41 discus with a throw of 23.66m.
Irish team manager and head of athletics at Paralympics Ireland James Nolan said: “Michael did very well to retain his 800m World title here in Doha. He’s had a rough road with injuries over the past year and his dedication to rehabbing the injuries has allowed him be in a position to win here at the IPC World Championships.”
Meanwhile, in the well supported Bobby Rea Memorial Cross Country at Jordanstown, victory went to Newry’s Paddy Hamilton while Banbridge’s Emma Mitchell took the ladies’ title.