Mike McDonald turns back clock to become local hero
THE sun came out again for team Northern Ireland on the final day of the athletics programme at the Mary Peters Track when Ulster triple jump legend Michael McDonald took gold in the M45 class with a mark of 11.64 metres, almost a metre clear of Alonso Vazquez from Spain in second spot.
McDonald, many times a Northern Ireland international, is still the proud holder of the national record at 15.78 metres set back in 1994.
He last competed in the Games in 1997 in Canada, finishing fourth, and was delighted to win on home soil.
"I did compete at club level up until 2009," he explained.
"Then I more or less retired from competition when I was appointed national jumps co-ordinator for Athletics Ireland, a post I held for three years."
McDonald admitted he almost withdrew from the event.
"I have been having severe problems with both Achilles tendons, the triple jumper's nightmare," he confessed.
"I had great pain in the long jump on Sunday and really until just before the triple started I was in two minds about competing. But I'm glad now I did, the pain was worth it."
McDonald had trouble with his opening jump, dragging his foot on the final phase after a vintage hop and step, but his experience kicked in and something of the old magic brought him to the gold.
Northern Ireland had a number of other successes.
Silver medals were taken by Alan Ward, M60 discus, 23.45; Ian McMullan, M35 discus, 36.49; Barry Holmes, M70 hammer, 24.54; William Church, M60 triple jump, 9.71; and Ross McClean, M35 shot, 12.20. And in the W18-29 class, Lynsey Glover added to her two silvers with bronze in the shot (7.47).
Out to sample Belfast today will be a four times gold medallist from France. He is Paris police officer Alain Aguero, who yesterday won the M60 800 metres in 2.29.92 to add to his victories in the 400, 1500 and 5000 metres.
Speaking through an interpreter, the former France junior 400 metres champion explained that he had had no time to sample the delights of host city Belfast.
"However I hope to see something of the city and visit some of the restaurants which I am told are good," he said.
And asked why he competed in all his races wearing an Australian baseball cap, he replied that it was a souvenir from the Games in Adelaide in 2007.
"And yes it was from a girl," he explained. "Don't forget that I am French!"
Competing in the M35 class, Russian star Roman Koval (Emezcom Fire Department) was one of the most impressive in action, winning the 800 metres in 2.00.91 and completing a quartet of victories having earlier won the 400, 5000 and 10,000 metres races.
In the sprints, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department officer Brent Gray, 26, showed why he has been dubbed the fastest man at the Games by completing the double when he sped to gold in the 200 metres in 21.62 to add to the 100 metres crown he won on Saturday.
Walter Thorne (New York City Department of Corrections) celebrated his 73rd birthday in the (M70) class by winning the 200 metres in a great time of 30.86.
Dame Mary Peters, Patron of the Games and Olympic gold medallist in the pentathlon in 1972 in Munich, is delighted with how the Games have been received and enjoyed.
"The clear success of the athletics is a tribute to the spirit of the Games and the expertise of the officials and the help from scores of volunteers who have made the whole programme possible," said Dame Mary.
"Indeed Pam Browne from Athletics Northern Ireland has told me that many of those people new to the sport have expressed a desire to remain in athletics and to receive further training. So the legacy has begun!"
And Californian Chuck Foote, director of the WPFG, echoed Dame Mary's sentiments.
"Belfast set out to deliver the best and friendliest Games," he declared.
"And you know what? Belfast has delivered!"