'I never thought we could be winning European medals consistently - it’s crazy'

Chloe Magee speaks to The42 off the back of her European Games success alongside brother Sam.

DESPITE REPRESENTING IRELAND at three Olympic Games, not many would have pegged Donegal’s Chloe Magee as the person to lead her country out for last month’s European Games in Minsk.

Chloe Magee leads Team Ireland during the opening ceremony Chloe Magee leads Team Ireland during the opening ceremony. Source: Simone Ferraro/INPHO

With two European medals to her name – including one from the inaugural European Games in 2015 – Ireland’s badminton star had the honour of flag-bearer bestowed upon her ahead of candidates like champion boxer and team captain, Kellie Harrington.

In the Belarusian capital, she would shoulder the responsibility of leading a nation and even went on to add to her own medal tally.

“I didn’t expect it,” she tells The42. “To lead the team out for the opening ceremony was such a special feeling.”

The rest of Team Ireland – all 64 of them – fell in behind one of the country’s most unassuming international athletes.

“I didn’t think about being selected for it at all. It was something that had never crossed my mind.

“For me it was about going to perform and try do as well as we could. When it happened, it was such a nice shock to be able to lead the team during the ceremony.

“It’s one of those things, I don’t think you can really put words on it.

“Until I’d done it and walked in having that feeling I didn’t realise how nice it would be. It’s something I’ll remember for a long time.”

Not to be over-awed by the occasion, the focus turned quickly back to the task at hand.

Chloe, alongside brother Sam, had been handed a difficult draw against Russian duo Evgenij Dremin and Evgenia Dimova. After three sets they disposed of their opponents, having slumped to an early setback in the first.

They rallied to take a 16-21, 21-19, 21-15 victory.

“We played the Russians first, late on the first day. Then we had the French first thing the following morning. We knew going there it was going to be a tough turnaround for us.”

Too tough, it proved.

A three-set defeat to Thom Gicquel and Delphine Delrue set up a do-or-die clash against home pairing Aliaksei Konakh and Krestina Silich.

Light work for the experienced Ulster pairing, a facile 21-9, 21-11 victory granted them safe passage through to the last eight.

“All those games were going to be difficult. The draws came and we went to the Games targeting that we come out of our group and getting into the quarter-finals.

Obviously for us it was Olympic points available. We were looking to get as many points as possible.

“We knew if we were in good form and performed to our best we could beat anyone in the tournament.”

On they went, marching past Dutch duo Selena Piek and Robin Tabeling and in the process secured Ireland’s seventh medal at the games.

The six other medals had come from Ireland’s boxing team.

As their quest for gold ended at the hands of England’s Chris and Gabrielle Adcock, the Magees couldn’t help be satisfied with their week’s work.

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“When people decide what tournaments they’re going to and where they want to try and play well – whether that’s European Championships, World Championships or other tournaments you want to target.

“Of course, you want to do as well as you can at all tournaments. But sometimes you’ll be going through training phases. We wanted to play well at European Games, so we targeted our training towards that.

“The tournaments before, a lot of them were match practice. But they were in Olympic qualifying too so we wanted to do well there.

Sometimes those tournaments, the pressure can be off. But if you’re losing games that you’re close to winning, that can hurt your confidence. You have to be careful that you know what you’re doing and what you’re targeting.

“Olympic qualification started in May. We’ve just started that now and we’ve put a lot of priority on trying to get into our best shape for it.

“[The European Games] was the priority. We wanted go well there and peak at the Games. We had a tour in Asia, played OK there.

“We didn’t get the results we wanted there but we were still performing quite well. At the European Games, it all came together.”

Chloe Magee and Sam Magee with their bronze medals Chloe Magee and Sam Magee with their bronze medals from this summer's European Games. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

‘Proud but not satisfied’

Speaking to this site late last year, Magee discussed her transition from singles to mixed doubles and the difficult decision to park that part of her career.

In the wake of her most recent successes, the 30-year-old admitted she couldn’t have predicted the transition would go as well as it has.

With the singles, I went to the Olympics three times. That’s the biggest sporting stage in the world. Those experiences, it’s very hard to put into words. That meant so much. The London Olympics was a part of my career that I’ll never ever forget. That was so special.

“But then you look at the mixed. When you’re coming home with major medals, that’s exactly where you want to be.

“You want to be winning those medals and to become one of the best players in Europe. That’s always something I wanted to do in my career. I never was that in singles. I am that in mixed.

“It’s hard to compare the two because the careers were so different.

I’m proud of my singles career, I’m not fully satisfied by it. But I knew it was something that wasn’t going to go any further. In mixed, I knew we were always competing well with the best in the world.

“This is where we want to be. We want to be winning European medals. Now a couple of years later I’ve won three. It’s crazy. I never thought that I or that we could be winning European medals consistently. It’s a brilliant feeling to be bringing them home.”

As targets go, reaching the Olympic Games as a mixed doubles pair is one of the loftier prospects.

With a massively reduced number of spots available and the necessity for a high global ranking position to be eligible for a place at next summer’s Games, Magee is realistic about the task ahead of the team.

I always knew it was going to be a big challenge. But we both know what’s required to qualify in the mixed. If we qualify it’ll be the biggest achievement of my career for sure.

“It’s going to be a mental battle for sure. To go through a long, hard period like that and still not qualify – of course that would be extremely tough.

But, I mean that’s what we want. We want to be here and be part of it. We want to try qualify and there’s no reason why we can’t. There’s every chance that if we don’t play well we won’t qualify, but if we do there’s a good chance we will. It’s as simple as that.

“We need to keep those performances high. We have to keep training and train as much as possible throughout the tournaments and keep our bodies in good shape.

“We can only do what we can do and our bodies will take care of the rest.”

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