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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 20 November, 2019
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The Irish brother-and-sister combo hoping to take the 2016 Olympics by storm

Living, working, travelling, and competing together takes its toll on the siblings.

Ireland's Chloe Magee and brother Sam Magee in action.
Ireland's Chloe Magee and brother Sam Magee in action.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

BACK HOME IN Raphoe, Donegal after a couple of grueling months training, Chloe Magee settles down at the family dinner table and looks up to see her brother and doubles teammate Sam. There is simply no escaping him.

Living, working, travelling, and competing together takes its toll on the siblings — as it would with any relationship — but it’s something that they are willing to withstand in order to succeed as a duo at the highest level in badminton.

Currently in Baku for the European Games, where they will compete on Monday, the Magees are in automatic mode. Just like flipping a switch, they have locked their focus on specific targets and everything else is simply white noise.

Although it took some outside help for them to reach that kind of Zen-like atmosphere with joint-therapy sessions allowing the mixed doubles pair to discover a level of trust — on and off the court — that enables them to maintain the professional standards required.

“We know how to annoy each other and how to make each other smile, so at this stage we’ve been travelling together for so long that we know everything about each other,” revealed Sam, who is the younger of the two siblings.

“It’s a very close relationship and like all things, it’s sometimes good and sometimes bad. We’ve got a good balance and help from the Sports Council too with psychology to help us get the best out of each other — that has helped us a lot and made us better people and better on court together, so I think that’s made a big difference for us.”

Source: Gareth Maher/YouTube

Having recently competed in Australia and Indonesia, the Magees are no longer fazed by long-haul flights, hours spent waiting in airports, and sleeping in cramped hotel rooms: it comes with being a full-time athlete. And sacrificing a more lenient lifestyle does too.

“You train so hard and if things don’t go right then it’s a very low place to be in, and sometimes the harder you try, the worse it gets,” explains Sam, who is ranked 83rd in the World in men’s doubles.

“Then there is the constant training, the travelling, being tired, and away from family, so it is very, very hard. People don’t see that side of it, but you have to do it to feel how it really is.

“But we do it because we love it and we want to succeed at the highest level. We get great backing from Badminton Ireland, the Irish Sports Council, and the Olympic Sports Council, but we know that we have to perform.”

Together, Chloe and Sam are just outside the top 20 in the World mixed doubles rankings, so they are close to breaking into that top tier but the real goal motivating them each day to put in the long hours is to qualify for next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil.

Chloe knows all about that stage having reached the second round of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and won one of her two matches in the 2012 Olympics in London. That was in the women’s singles category. Now she wants to get there with her brother alongside her.

“Maybe because I’ve been there twice before at the Olympics and I know that it’s more difficult to qualify for mixed doubles than it is for singles, but I want to do with Sam would be extra special,” says Chloe, who is also coached by her older brother, Dan.

“To qualify with Sam, in what will be such a tough qualifying period, it would be really, really good. For us to get there we have to be in the Super Series, so we spent all last year getting our ranking high so we’re in these draws.

“We did that, so the next step is to stay there, beat these pairs and try to get that little bit higher to hopefully secure our place. It’s not going to be easy and we could drop, but it’s a challenge that we’re looking forward to.”

While they are fully focused on picking up a medal at the European Games, there is no hiding from the Olympics. It is what the duo are quizzed on in every media interview, by family members and friends, and even people on the street who might recognise them.

That’s okay, though, because the Magees want to be associated with the Olympics. After all, it’s why they are pushing their bodies and their relationship to the limit, in order to be the best that they can be.

“The biggest pinnacle for the sport is the Olympics and everyone feels that. You look at other sports, like golf, and it’s not the biggest event for them, but it definitely is for badminton,” says Sam.

“When you win Olympic gold, it really puts you in the history books and it really means a lot. Obviously, we have to qualify first, but winning at the Olympics is what we’re working towards.”

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Gareth Maher

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