Blade-runner Liam Malone lit up more than the Paralympics for New Zealand when he won three medals, two of them gold, at Rio in 2016.

His personality captivated the country. His excitement, enthusiasm and honest, modest astonishment at his success were delivered with a toothy grin and a flop of curly hair.

His early retirement from competitive running has been described by Athletics New Zealand's para-athletics programme manager, Brett Watton, as a huge loss to the sport.

That is an understatement. So much so that it is hard to believe the 24-year-old will not be seen around future Paralympics in some capacity. He has already shown an interest in it beyond his own success on the track.


He has been working with the government agency High Performance Sport NZ on a new blade development for the 2020 Games in Tokyo and Watton says he has readily made himself available for speaking at development camps and the like to encourage young athletes and guide new blade-runners.

The numbers competing in para-athletics have doubled, Watton estimates, in the year or so since Malone burst on to our screens. He had taken up blade-running only two years earlier while studying at university.

Explaining his decision to retire this week, he said: "External events both in and out of my control have taken a toll on my training over the past month and I don't feel I have the emotional investment or necessary focus and energy to succeed at the highest level in Tokyo."

If that sounds like temporary difficulties and a lapse of enthusiasm that will soon pass, he also said, "I want to find something I can commit to and be happy in for a long time. It would be unjust to commit half-heartedly to those who support me, my coach, the supporting organisations, the New Zealand public, sponsors, my friends and family."

Those are the sentiments of someone not thinking only of himself. He is conscious of the investment others have made in him, not just financially, and does not want to let them down.

He deserves to know that his performances and personality have given people with disabilities a star they and the public at large will continue to celebrate.

Celebrity life could be his for some time if he wants it. His immediate plans sound more serious. He has taken a job with a high-tech development company working at the frontiers of artificial intelligence.

As he explains it, they are building a robot named Rachel for IBM that will be able to recognise human emotions and needs and respond to them appropriately.

"Rachel" has a human face but it is not as fresh and lively as the face he has given para-athletics. He was the personification of the values of the Paralympics.

The Games are the ultimate expression of the possibilities, not the limitations, of what can be done with human disabilities.

All sport is a struggle to overcome physical and mental constraints and those with additional disabilities have to struggle harder than most.

In Malone they had a star that now will not fade.