ATHLETICS: Conor McIlveen looking beyond Rio Paralympics as his sprint career takes off

Ireland's Conor McIlveen of City of Derry Track Club, competing in the 800m T38 at the 2016 IPC Athletics European Championships in Grosseto, Italy. Photo by Luc Percival/Sportsfile
Ireland's Conor McIlveen of City of Derry Track Club, competing in the 800m T38 at the 2016 IPC Athletics European Championships in Grosseto, Italy. Photo by Luc Percival/Sportsfile
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DERRY SPRINTER Conor McIlveen will soon discover if he’s made the cut for the Irish Para-Athletics squad heading to the Paralympic Games in Rio next September - although he can’t help but feel it’s come 12 months too soon!

The 26 year-old IT specialist expects to narrowly miss out in selection when the official team announcement is made in City Hall, Dublin, on July 5th.

However, he’s delighted to be ‘knocking at the door’ at the highest level and rubbing shoulders with Paralympic champions and Ireland teammates, Jason Smyth and Michael McKillop.

McIlveen was back in work at All State N.I. in Springtown yesterday after his heroics in Grosseto, Italy, at the IPC European Championships last week, where he shaved three seconds off his previous personal best at the T38 800m event and came so close to a medal.

Considering he’s a relative newcomer to the sport, having made his track debut 18 months ago, it’s a remarkable achievement for the Derry man who’s making serious progress in the sport.

While he’s still hoping to make the Paralympics squad heading to Rio, he’s happy in the knowledge he’s moving in the right direction as he looks beyond the Paralympics and towards the World Championships in London next year.

The Irish Athletics Team during their homecoming from the IPC Athletic European Championships 2016 in Grosetto, Italy, at Dublin Airport in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

The Irish Athletics Team during their homecoming from the IPC Athletic European Championships 2016 in Grosetto, Italy, at Dublin Airport in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

“I think I’ll just miss out on Rio,” he said. “I’ve only been doing track running the last 18 months. Last year I competed at the World Games and this year I stepped it up to the Europeans.

“The official announcement is July 5th but we find out the week before. Based on talking to the other athletes in Italy, Ireland only have nine or 10 spots.

“There’s three guaranteed and then there’s people with higher ranking than me from last year. Even to be considered is a fantastic achievement. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed I’ll make Rio,” he added. “If the Paralympics had have been next year or the year after, I would have had a better chance. They’ve come maybe a year or two too soon for me.

“Ever since last year, the plan was to get to Rio but we weren’t aware at that stage the 800m event was being cut from the competition.

It makes you feel proud that your knocking on the door. If I keep improving I’ll always have a chance.

Conor McIlveen

“Michael McKillop, who is the world record holder for both the 1,500m and 800m, told me that, to get in the top four at my first major, is some achievement. I was so close to a medal. I was one second out from bronze in Italy. It’s the best I’ve ever ran, even in the conditions. It was 30 degrees heat in the 800m.

“I would love to make Rio. But it makes you feel proud that you’re knocking on the door. If I keep improving I’ll always have a chance.

“It makes me want to push even harder now. The World Championships are the next big one and, hopefully, the 800m event is in it.

“This last year has gone nicely and I’m peaking at the right times. I still have another Ireland race in July in the IPC Grand Prix in Berlin.”

16 June 2016; Ireland's Conor McIlveen of City of Derry AC, from Co Derry, after competing in the 800m T38 at the 2016 IPC Athletics European Championships in Grosseto, Italy. Photo by Luc Percival/Sportsfile

16 June 2016; Ireland's Conor McIlveen of City of Derry AC, from Co Derry, after competing in the 800m T38 at the 2016 IPC Athletics European Championships in Grosseto, Italy. Photo by Luc Percival/Sportsfile

McIlveen, who won double gold at last year’s Cerebral Palsy World Games in Nottingham, has been encouraged by his performances at his first ever major athletics event.

He was pipped to bronze medal by Christoffer Schultz Vienberg, of Denmark, in the 800m at the European Championships last Thursday having made his Championship debut in the 1,500m race on Day 2, finishing sixth in an extremely fast-paced race in a time of 4.45.89.

He admits that nerves got the better of him in the 1,500m event but was delighted with his personal best display in the 800m.

“The nerves got to me,” he admitted. “My stomach was in bits and I didn’t sleep well the night before because it was Championship debut. It was my first major ever.

“I knew the 800m was my best event. I was hoping to stick with the big boys and get a good time which would give me a glimmer of hope for Rio. But with the nerves and the way the race went, it just didn’t go to plan.

“I was very happy with how I managed the race but I didn’t run my best time. It happens to everyone and I’m the sixth best in Europe at the even which isn’t bad.In the 800m, I went hard in the first lap and tried to sit in third or fourth. I could see the Danish guy in front of me getting worried and I had a go at him but he’s an endurance runner. We battled but he had that extra stride on me. I knew it was by far the best race I’ve ever run.

Ireland's Conor McIlveen competing in the 800m T38 at the 2016 IPC Athletics European Championships in Grosseto, Italy. Photo by Luc Percival/Sportsfile

Ireland's Conor McIlveen competing in the 800m T38 at the 2016 IPC Athletics European Championships in Grosseto, Italy. Photo by Luc Percival/Sportsfile

“When you’re running three seconds off your best, you have to be delighted with it. It will only make me better for the world championships. I’ve made my debut now and I won’t be as nervous and know I can stick with the big boys.”

Conor McIlveen is keeping his fingers crossed he makes the Irish Paralympic team heading to Rio in September.

Conor McIlveen is keeping his fingers crossed he makes the Irish Paralympic team heading to Rio in September.