AIRPORT DEPARTURE lounges can be lonely places at times.
The life of professional sports people may seem glamorous when it comes to weeks like this and the Olympic Games.
Looks, though, can be deceiving.
It’s not always this way.
Just ask badminton player Chloe Magee.
Tomorrow afternoon, the 27-year-old Raphoe woman takes to the court at the Riocentro to begin what will be her third Olympic Games.
The glitz, the glamour, the hype and the hoopla of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio are in stark contrast to some of the surroundings that she can recall.[adrotate group=”81″]
Take her back to Lima, the Peruvian capital city, in April of this year.
Her Olympic hopes were dangling by the thinnest of threads and, after she lost out to Turkey’s Ozfe Bayrak 21-18, 15-21, 21-8, Magee’s mind went into overdrive.
“People only see the Olympics; they don’t see what goes into making an Olympics,” says Magee.
“You’re sitting in a hotel room in Peru thinking that the Olympics has gone out the window. You’ve got a 12-hour flight home and that’s all that’s on your mind.
“I’ve been through struggles and stress to get to Rio. At one stage this year, I thought that my whole career, my whole life, was upside down.”
She’s had a hectic year, but there have been a few noteworthy results that have helped her get to Rio and a third Olympics, like the quarter-finals she reached at the Polish Open and the Portuguese Open.
Despite being beaten by Li Lian Yang and Mia Blichfeldt, they were significant for her ranking points, which suffered in the women’s singles as a result of her pursuit of another dream.
It was still a dream still weaved between The Rings.[adrotate group=”76″]
After London in 2012, when Magee defeated Hadia Hosny before losing to Hongyan Pi, the Raphoe woman made a decision. As well as trying to reach Rio in the women’s singles, she’d give the mixed doubles a go, too; playing alongside her brother, Sam.
“It was just a different plan,” she says now.
“I don’t give in easily, but come Christmas we had to make the call. The fact that it was with Sam made that so tough because I know first-hand how hard he works.
“We weren’t far away from qualifying either. They’re small margins. It had to be Plan B after Christmas. No-one likes to be there at Plan B, but it has to be the way sometimes.”
Her head was scrambled in the early months of this year and, at times, she wondered if it was all worth it.
That’s where Kate Kirby came in. Kirby is a sports psychologist who counts the Irish Olympic Sailing and Irish Senior Women’s Hockey squads among those in a vast portfolio.[adrotate group=”38″]
Magee sought her out.
“Kate helped me through a lot,” Magee says.
“I was really stressed. I needed to relieve the stress. It was started to affect my whole life. It was a case of: ‘If I don’t make the Olympics, my whole career is over’. That was the wrong attitude.
“She made me realise that Rio was still in my hands. I just needed to change my mentality – and I did.
“I always knew that I could get there, but you can’t help but question yourself sometimes. You’re sitting there in a hotel room adding things up and you aren’t getting the sums you want.
“It’s easy for people to say that you must enjoy being a full-time athlete, but there are some stressful times on plane journeys from Asia, America, Australia – I’ve done them all this year – when you’ve nothing to do but think.”[adrotate group=”37″]
Late April took her to La Roche sur Yon in France and the Vendéspace, where the European Badminton Championships were being held.
It was the last qualifying tournament for Rio. Magee was off the Olympic list as she headed for France. She knew her target. Two wins was the only result that would see her make it to Rio.
“The week beforehand wasn’t good; I was nervous and wasn’t training well,” she says.
“I knew what I had to do, but I knew the consequences too. If I lost the first game, well…
“I did a lot with Kate that week. We dealt with the worst case and best case scenarios. We did everything: The bad, the good; win, lose, draw. In some ways, I was more relaxed after that, but my current form was off at the time.”[adrotate group=”70″]
She defeated English player Chloe Birch in her opening game 21-19, 18-21, 21-12 in what she describes now as ‘a very, very nervy game’.
Telma Santos from Portugal was the next woman to stand across the court from Magee and the Donegal woman put the demons to bed in emphatic style: 21-8, 21-9 the scoreboard glowed.
“I had everything to gain and everything to lose that day,” she says, “but I sort of went with an attitude that I had nothing to lose. I played so much better, It was such a relief. For about two or three months I was so, so stressed and almost packed it in – that day, I just hit what I needed to hit.”
The draw from Rio perhaps seems daunting on the face of it. Magee faces Wang Yihan from China, the world number 2, tomorrow, before meeting German Karin Schnasse at 1am on Saturday.
It’s nothing when she considers the fight she faced over the last eight months.[adrotate group=”43″]
She says: “I don’t want to be away playing in lower-ranked tournaments. I want to be there, playing the best in the world. That’s what the Olympic Games, the big stage, is all about.
“I have my own goals. Performance is everything. If I can get out my best badminton, I know what I can do. If I can get a good performance, there’s no reason I can’t win.”Tags: