Never a doubt as McKillop strikes gold again
WHEN CATHERINE McKillop walked out from under the stand, her son Michael put his hands to his face and slowly splayed his fingers as if playing peekaboo with a child. He was waiting for whoever was going to present him with his 1,500m gold medal, not imagining for a second that it would be his mother. He closed his hands over his eyes a second time, as if to tempt fate. But when he opened them again she was still there, trying desperately hard not to catch his eye for fear her legs would go.
It was hardly a groundless worry, for he’d run the legs out of everyone on the track during his race. The first words his father had said to him after his T37 800m gold medal on Saturday night were, “Never in doubt”. They were the best words to do justice to the way he doubled the dose with gold here. Never in doubt, not even for half a lap.
“It feels unbelievable, it was fantastic to be able to do this in front of such a big crowd,” he said afterwards. “They were cheering me on the whole way and, even though there was a British guy in my race I felt like the whole crowd was behind me.
“It’s great to do the double here in London. When I heard that the 1,500m would be on the programme here, I was thrilled as I didn’t have this opportunity in Beijing. It means so much to be able to do this.”
And how he did it. Just like in the 800m on Saturday night, he shadowed Aussie runner Brad Scott for the first half of the race before ratcheting up the pace and leaving the rest of the field spread-eagled. He took a full five seconds out of everyone in the third lap and spent the last 400 keeping them at bay.
It was smooth and it was professional, exactly how it had been conceived between him and his coach and father, Paddy. Never in doubt, just like the man said.
“I had agreed with my coach that I would work steadily until 800m and increase the pace gradually to see who would come with me. Only the Australian did so I increased the pace again. The plan worked.”
He left the 10-strong field strung out in his wake, even as five of them ran the quickest race of their lives. Coming around the last bend he started waving to the crowd and continued to do so all the way down to the finish line, like he was the Grand Marshal of a St Patrick’s Day parade or something.
Come to think of it, it’s maybe not the worst idea in the world. The campaign to have him and Jason Smyth laden with shamrock next March starts here.
His time of 4:08.11 was slow enough but then virtually cartwheeling the last 50 metres will tend to hold a man back a touch. He didn’t come close to his own world record because he didn’t need to. All he had to do was keep clear water between him and the rest and once the pace increased on the third lap, nobody was getting up to him.
“The race went really slow. I just picked it up and put a wee spurt in to see if they would come with me. I could see Brad come with me and then with 800 metres left my Dad had said to pick it up again and I felt really strong. I got to the bell and no one was going to stop me from there.”
“To do it in front of my parents, my grandparents and my aunties and uncles is so special, it’s an honour really. Most of them have never been to a track in their lives and for them to experience it in a stadium of 80,000 people and to cheer on their nephew or grandson or son winning a gold medal is unbelievable.”
Forty minutes later, he really got to see what unbelievable meant when his mother came out with the presenting party. Protocol usually calls for a handshake and maybe a peck on the cheek on occasions like this. Protocol got told what it could do with itself.
Mother and son melted into a puddle of an embrace, a lifetime’s trials poured into it.
In a stadium stuffed to the rafters, there was suddenly a lot of dust in a lot of eyes.