Michael McKillop’s dam burst of emotion
Sports review of 2016: John O’Sullivan on the Irishman’s brave gold medal performance at the Paralympics
Ireland’s Michael McKillop celebrates victory after the Men’s 1500 metre-T37 final at the Paralympic Games in Rio. Photograph: Alexandre Loureiro/Getty Images
Olympic Stadium, Rio, September 11th
1,500 metres (T37) final
Rugby offers some viable candidates in terms of most memorable events; the Ireland Under-20s reaching the World Junior Championship final, beating the Baby Blacks en route, and an unforgettable, history making moment in Chicago where Joe Schmidt’s side finally ended a 111-year hoodoo.
But the Paralympics in Rio, would be a personal choice.
Paralympic sport challenges convention, often spectacularly so.
The athletes share the DNA that drives their able-bodied counterparts, desire, commitment, dedication, sacrifice, attention-to-detail but there is a difference, borne of imperfect physiology.
Watching a competitor with no arms and one leg compete in a backstroke event in swimming, seeking propulsion from the wall by gripping a towel in the mouth, while leaning back almost horizontally, is difficult to fathom, when pondering the preface to that sporting story.
The Ireland team returned with 11 medals and a plethora of personal best performances from Jason Smyth’s imperious extension of a now 12-year reign as the ‘Fastest Paralympian on the Planet,’ to Eoghan Clifford’s remarkable defiance in eclipsing not only his rivals but temporarily defying the ravages of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, to win gold and silver, a feat also achieved by the Women’s tandem of Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal.
However it was watching Michael McKillop sob in the aftermath of winning a fourth Paralympic gold medal, a dam burst of frustration, fear, expectation and happiness that trickled down his cheeks in big, salty tears that underlined how much these athletes invest emotionally and physically.
The Paralympics isn’t some sporting sideshow.
Few knew about the cyst growing in one of the joints in his foot that he had to have manipulated every morning, just to make the pain bearable; not great for a 1,500 metre runner.
So when he said: “I’ve come through a really tough time and I’m just glad that I was able to go out and win. I had to stay focused and realise what life is about; it’s not just about winning gold medals, it’s about living and being proud to live the life that I have,” it could have served, not just as a personal metaphor, but one that encapsulates the essence of the Paralympics.
Low Light: More a regret that Ireland didn’t manage to win the second Test against the Springboks and in doing so clinch the series. A squad missing several established players that got to the cusp of an extraordinary achievement.