WHEN THE 17-year-old Chloe Magee completed her Leaving Certificate in 2006, she had a choice to make.
Magee was so-highly regarded on the badminton courts that Tom Reidy – a former US Olympic badminton player – approached her with an offer to move to Sweden and give full-time badminton a go.
The Raphoe woman had excelled at schools level whilst at the Royal and Prior, making history at 16 when she became the youngest player to make the Irish team.
This week, Magee stands on the cusp of history. On Thursday, at around 1pm Irish time, Magee will face the world number two, Wang Yihan from China, at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.[adrotate group=”38″]
It’ll be the third time for Magee to take to the Olympic stage having played in Beijing and London in the last two Games. In doing so, she’ll become the first Donegal sportsperson to participate in three different Olympic Games.
Like many successful tales, Magee’s was one of chance.
Her father, Sammy, persuaded her to take up Reidy’s offer of moving to Jönköping to work with the BMK Watterstad club and, within two years, she was an Olympian.[adrotate group=”37″]
“I wasn’t funded or anything; I just took the chance that I’d be good enough,” says the now 27-year-old.
“The club in Sweden took a chance on me and put a lot into me. They let me train there. Tom Reidy was the Performance Director. I’d heard a lot about him, a lot of good reports, and he asked me to join them in Sweden.
“Dad basically made the choice for me. He just said: ‘You’re going!’ I don’t think that I ever imagined being a full-time badminton player.[adrotate group=”81″]
“That choice at 17…I could have gone to college and would be sitting now in a day job watching the Olympics at home. Instead, people are watching me; it’s crazy, really.
“You do think sometimes: ‘What the hell am I doing?’ When you’re winning games and doing well, it’s like the best thing in the world. I always want to improve, get fitter, get stronger.
Magee made history in Beijing when, at the Beijing University of Technology Gymnasium, she defeated Katie Tolmoff from Estonia, coming from behind to win 18-21, 21-18, 21-19.
The then world number 11, Jun Jae-youn of South Korea, eliminated Magee in the second round, but the experience of becoming the first Irish player to win a badminton match at the Olympics – at such a young age – has stood to her ever since.[adrotate group=”46″]
She says: “I played Tolmoff a few times and hadn’t beaten her the whole year. It came to the Olympics and I just went out to give it a shot. I ended up with a win. It was the biggest win in 2012 for me, easily. It was incredible, really.”
Beijing wasn’t on the radar initially but, once she went into full-time training, Magee’s career rocketed.
She was in her second year when Reidy saw the possibilities opening and his words excited Magee: ‘If you have a very good year, there’s a chance of Beijing.’
The Raphoe woman says: “London was the goal at that stage.
“I never, ever, thought about Beijing. Some results went my way, I got lucky with a couple of draws, got the results I needed and there I was, in Beijing.[adrotate group=”70″]
“It was a complete shock to be there. I never planned for it. I was so young, but what an experience. I went there and played well.”
Four years later, in London, Magee, backed by a big Irish support – including members of her family – defeated Egypt’s Hadia Hosny 21-17, 21-6 in her opening game.
In her second group game, Magee took French player and former world number 2, Hongyan Pi to three sets before missing out 16-21, 21-18, 21-14.
Magee says: “I got a good group in London. I was confident of beating the Egyptian girl. I took the French girl to three sets.
“I had played her a few times and came close, but hadn’t beaten her. In London I took her to three sets for the first time. If I’d played a bit steadier or smarter, I could have won it.”
The road from Raphoe to Rio has been rocky and there were times when Magee wondered if she’d make it. By the skin of her teeth, she did, and she’s relishing the task of facing Yihan and German Karin Schnaase, who she plays at around 1am Irish time on Saturday.
“If I can get a good performance, there’s no reason I can’t win. Everyone wants to win. It’s all about performance.
“I’m a much better player now. I’m fitter and I’m stronger – but everyone is. Even in the four years since London, the game has moved on. There are no easy games now.”