“I would love to say that I would try and break the world record in the 800m, that would be probably my main focus and my main goal will be to do that and keep the record going, but if that doesn’t happen then the most important thing is winning the gold medal for Ireland”
The double world and Paralympic champion suffered a trapped nerve in his foot when he returned to training after taking a break following his momentous victories in Lyon, France, last year. At the World Championships he set yet another world record on his way to 800m T37 gold, before clinching the 1,500m T38 title in a championship record time.
Now McKillop is determined to line up in Swansea in seven weeks’ time ready to continue his fantastic run of form which has seen him set a new world record in the 800m at every major event he has competed in since the 2006 World Championships in Assen, the Netherlands.
“I would love to say that I would try and break the world record in the 800m, that would be probably my main focus and my main goal will be to do that and keep the record going, but if that doesn’t happen then the most important thing is winning the gold medal for Ireland,” he said.
There is an added incentive for the 24-year-old, who has won every major championships except the Europeans, having chosen not to compete in the Netherlands in 2012 as he focussed on the Paralympic Games. Completing the full set of gold medals remains a key target, but McKillop is philosophical about the task ahead.
“It’s been a frustrating and hard time but it’s also been a good learning curve, I learnt a lot about myself and I’ve been able to work on not just my running but also my form and things. There’s a positive that always comes out of a negative,” he said.
“During the six or seven months I’ll not lie, it was very depressing and very tough, I guess there were times when I kind of thought I don’t want to do it anymore.
“But the people around me helped me get over those thoughts - perked me up a little, kept me mentally focussed on the main goal - which is getting back fit, getting back doing something that I love to do, and getting back on the track and competing.”
McKillop returned to full training at the end of April, and stepping back on to the track after months on the sidelines was an anxious moment.
“There was a sense of nervousness, but a sense of happiness at the same time because I hadn’t been on the track since winning the Worlds, and I didn’t know how I was meant to feel, or what I was meant to be doing. I felt like I was kind of like a novice.
“It was a strange moment. The last time I ran, I won the World Championship, so I thought ‘I’m going to be running the same pace, I’m going to be running like I did,’ - and I felt absolutely rubbish.”
Now McKillop has a race against time to be at his best come August, so in July he plans to race himself back to full fitness at various meetings around the UK.
Helping him on the road to recovery is his coach – his father Paddy. The pair have been working together since McKillop started running as a 12-year-old.
“The relationship is always good,” explained McKillop. “We have ups and downs, and good times and bad times but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
“Me and my dad are like best friends. We have a father son relationship in the house, but whenever we step out on a run we are not father and son anymore - we are professionals.”
Father and son – coach and athlete relationships are nothing new in the sport of course – and the McKillops can point to the likes of Lord Sebastian Coe and his father Peter who demonstrated how successful a family coaching set-up can be.
“There are things that I never thought I would be able to achieve and I have, like representing Ireland in the IAAF Cross Country Championships in 2009. And to compete in Beijing and London and win all those medals – if it wasn’t for my dad I wouldn’t be competing at that high level. It all goes down to the quality of the coaching.”
Without his nearest rivals in the field in Swansea - Tunisia’s Paralympic silver medallist Mohamed Charmi, or Australia’s world runner-up Brad Scott - McKillop should be an overwhelming favourite to complete the full set of medals in an illustrious career, and to ensure an agonising six months at least has a happy ending.
McKillop will be one of 600 athletes from 40 countries competing at the Swansea 2014 IPC Athletics European Championships between 18-23 August.