Irish Paralympic athletes Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop both did the business again at the IPC World Athletics Championships in Qatar. Despite carrying the weight of favoritism on their shoulders, both men turned in clinical performances to add world championship gold medals to their already impressive list of successes.
For Smyth, it was as much a race against time as the opposition with his wife expecting their first baby any day now. Immediately after Saturday’s final he was on his way to the airport to arrive back in time for the birth.
The Derry Track Club athlete had qualified confidently from his heat on Friday with a 10.78 seconds timing but still looked nervous as he lined up for the eight-man final in the Suhaim Bin Hamad Stadium. He was sluggish out of the blocks as Bulgaria’s Radoslav Zlatanov was first to show.
However, Smyth was quickly into his running and had hit the front by halfway before going on to break the electronic beam in a more than credible 10.62 seconds. Brazil’s Gustavo Araujo came through to take a distant second place in 10.90 with Chad Peris of Australia nabbing the bronze in 10.96 as the Bulgarian slipped back to fifth.
It was the fifth World IPC Championships gold for Smyth to add to his four Paralympic gold medals.
“It was great to get out there and start competing. It’s been a couple of years since the world championships, so it’s just great to be here and thankfully cross the line first. I am very happy with my time, obviously you always want to be quicker but at the end of the day I got gold and that’s all that matters for me.”
Smyth’s room-mate McKillop retained the T38 800m title 90 minutes later in a season’s best time of 2:01.31. The St. Malachy’s athlete, unlike Smyth, will be looking to add a second gold medal when he defends his T37 1500m title next Friday.
The Glengormley man, who has a mild form of cerebral palsy, opened up a big lead in the first 400m and although Tunisia’s Abbes Saidi was closing rapidly in the final furlong, McKillop held on to win by over a second.
“This gold medal means a lot to me and I will forever remember this day, not because of the time but because I never thought I would get to the start line after a really horrific injury,” said McKillop who was hurt in a domestic accident. “It’s been so tough mentally but thanks to my family, and especially my girlfriend’s support, I am here and I am still unbeaten.”
McKillop’s victory maintains an unbeaten record in Paralympic competition which now stretches back to his 1500m silver medal at the 2006 IPC World Championships in Assen. Since then he won a gold medal at Beijing Paralympics in 2008 before doing the middle distance double in London.
Late on Friday evening Ireland’s Niamh McCarthy took third place in the discus final (F41 class) with a throw of 23.66 metres. McCarthy, from Carrigaline in Cork, showed little sign of nerves as she snatched the bronze medal with her final throw at what is her first world championships.