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McKillop happy to still be top of his class but has to settle for a fourth place finish overall

 

Michael McKillop
Michael McKillop

By Brian Hill

It was a bitter sweet day for nine-times World Para gold medallist Michael McKillop in the World Para Athletics Championships in Dubai yesterday.

The 29-year-old retained his World T37 classification title in yet another championship best time of 4 mins 9.07 secs which is over a second faster than his previous record from Lyon in 2013.

However in a cut-throat race which combined two disability classifications McKillop finished fourth behind winner Nate Riech of Canada.

Riech is classified in the T38 category which includes a milder form of cerebral palsy disability compared to McKillop's T37 classification.

The combination of these two classifications in one race was always going to make things difficult for athletes such as McKillop and the four others in the 16-man field with the greater T37 physical disability.

So it proved in the race where World record holder Riech (who ran 3 mins 57 secs in May) stormed to the front in a time of three minutes with one lap remaining.

The 24-year-old never eased up and crossed the line in a championship record time of 4 mins 2.04 secs.

The pace of the race produced records galore with silver going to Algeria's Krai Abdelkrim in an African record of 4.04.70. He was followed by the 2017 T38 champion Deon Kenzie of Australia (4.08.49).

McKillop, who was fifth for most of the race, finally finished fourth and was first in the T37 category.

He also had the consolation of beating T37 arch rival Liam Stanley of Canada who was fifth in 4.10.78.

City of Lisburn's David Leavy will be pleased with his ninth place finish in a PB of 4 mins 23.86 secs.

McKillop, who is now qualified for the Tokyo Paralympics, said: "Before I came out here I prepared as best I could but I knew that I wouldn't be able to go with the pace from a long distance out. I've just had eight months in my legs, that's it. So if I can do that on another eight months it will get me back in the medals and hopefully top of the podium again. Tonight wasn't my night, that's sport for you, the better people beat me."

The Newtownabbey man should however be well satisfied with his performance as it came against a nightmarish background over the past two years.

After his victories in the London World Paras in 2017 he suffered a severe groin injury which at one stage threatened his future. McKillop did not race at all last year and had only four track races last summer with the last one over three months ago.

He also has suffered from some well documented mental issues which has included feeling like the "forgotten athlete as people don't realise from my appearance that I have a disability".

However, like his multi titled compatriot Jason Smyth, McKillop's focus will now be firmly set on preparing for Tokyo next year.

In the F40 shot put Ireland's Mary Fitzgerald was seventh out of 13 competitors with a throw of 6.87 metres.

The event was won by Tunisia's Raja Jebali with a championship record of 8.63 metres.

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