Ireland’s middle distance star Michael McKillop heads to Rio 2016 Paralympic Games after an injury -free build up – in stark contrast to the nightmare of recent years.
McKillop has every reason to be confident at this year’s Paralympic Games – and not just because of the successful track and field career that he has so far enjoyed, or the fact that he tops the world rankings once again.
The last two years have seen the Irishman struggle with injuries, only to battle back to the track with just weeks to spare before major championships – and still win gold.
A trapped nerve in 2014 ruled out much of the season, leaving McKillop with a race against time to be fit for the European Championships in Swansea, Great Britain. Double European gold followed.
Then in January 2015 McKillop fell down the stairs in his home, damaging ligaments and tendons. A few weeks later painful shin splints meant he was forced to take further time off the track. With the World Championships in Doha, Qatar looming, McKillop returned to action last August – by October he had two world gold medals round his neck.
This year McKillop has had - for him – the luxury of an extended period of training, which he believes will help give him the edge in Rio.
“In 2014 and 2015 I’d about six weeks to get ready for any championships, so this time we’ve had 22 weeks leading up to all the races I did in June,” he explained.
“I’ve been pretty much injury free since I won in Doha – I’ve had a few niggles which is always going to happen, but for me I’m on top off all my niggles and I haven’t had a serious injury, I’m training a lot fitter than I have in a couple of years.
“Whenever you’re consistently training week in week out it’s a lot more enjoyable. It’s harder because you’re trying to get fitter and you’re doing harder sessions, but your body adapts to that,” added the 26-year-old, who has also benefitted from more race action in 2016 than in previous years.
“Knowing that I can go in to Rio with confidence in myself and can run a decent time, then when it comes to racing against my competitors I’ll hopefully have that bit of mental edge.
“Obviously there’s going to be little doubts going in regardless, but that’s nerves, that’s what you have to have if you want to win, that little bit of butterflies, or else there wouldn’t be any point in competing.
“But for me I would probably be the most confident I’ve been certainly in the last couple of years.”
The Ballymena-born runner also believes his previous Paralympic Games experience will pay dividends.
McKillop won 800m T37 gold at Beijing 2008 then added 800m and 1,500m T37 gold at London 2012; heading in to his third Games, he admits it does get easier.
“I’ve been there, I’ve done it, I’ve got every medal I can win, every record I need to have,” acknowledged McKillop, who has also won seven world titles dating back to 2006.
“That for me is exciting in a way as I know what it takes. So going to my third Games, I’m not going to be in awe of an athletes’ village, or in awe of my competitors.”
McKillop may exude a quiet confidence but the respect for his rivals remains.
“I’m a very respectful person, I will respect every competitor as they could possibly beat me, but I know if I’m in good enough shape that I can put myself in the right position to potentially win, I’m not going to be over awed by them, or any trash talk.
“I know how to filter that out, that’s the benefit of experience. I can go there and just get the job done.”
Sport fans from around the world can now buy their Paralympic tickets for Rio 2016 from authorised ticket resellers (ATRs)
The IPC’s Global ATR is Jet Set Sports, and Rio 2016 tickets and packages can be purchased on the CoSport website.
Residents of Brazil can buy 2016 Paralympics tickets directly from the Rio 2016 website.
Visa International is the exclusive payment card and the official payment system for the Paralympic Games.