Her first Olympics in Beijing was a whirlwind experience for a 19 year-old but four years on Chloe Magee is older, wiser and ready to soak up all London 2012 has to offer.
By reaching the quarter-finals of the Irish Open in Lisburn at the weekend Ulster and Ireland’s number one has virtually secured a second Olympics appearance next summer and she’ll have plenty of time to look forward to it unlike last time. This is based on her current ranking and having played in the required number of tournaments.
In 2008 confirmation Chloe had made the Irish team came only a few weeks before the Games began.
“I just remember that for Beijing I wasn’t expected to qualify so first of all I couldn’t believe it when I made it. I hadn’t been playing badminton full time for that long before then so it was a huge shock to me to get there and then everything just passed me by because I didn’t really know what was happening until I got to the Games and then it was ‘holy cow, I’m actually at the Olympics and that was quite surreal.”
In her first round match she made her Olympics debut against Estonian Kati Tolmoff winning in three close sets.
“That was another thing that went by very quickly. I knew going on to court I’d done everything I could to be ready and I just wanted to go out there and give it everything I could and it was pretty hard because I’d never played in an arena that big before so it was tough dealing with that but I think that experience will help me out this time because I’m used to playing in big events.”
Her experience in Beijing persuaded Chloe that she was good enough to play with the very best in the world and she dedicated herself to her sport.
“Back then I’d only been playing badminton for a year and a half full time and when I got to the Olympics that’s when I knew that’s where I wanted to be, competing with the best players in the world and that I wanted to get back there and it’s what gave me the kick to start playing properly and giving it everything and for the last four years I’ve given my life to the sport and this year is the first year I can say that my results have really looked up. It’s been a long hard road with training and there’s been a lot of doubts but this year has been good.”
She added, “This time I wanted it more, I’ve been training better and preparing for it for four years and you know when you want something so badly you’ll do whatever it takes.”
And dedication is what Chloe has needed. Being part of a small Irish team with brother Sam and Scott Evans means a lot of travelling and this year Chloe has been to Russia, Bulgaria, Spain, Norway and Sweden to name a few countries all in search for those vital qualifying points.
“Everybody that you talk to says ‘what a great life you have that you are going from this part of the world to that’ but it’s not like that at all. You’re going from one hotel to another hotel and from one tournament to another.
You’re not getting to see all the sights so it is hard and it is lonely and in an individual sport like badminton everyone is there for themselves, there’s no such thing as best friends, you’re there to compete and everyone is the same. That means when you get your wins you have to really savour the moment because they pass so quick.”
There’s no doubt what her best result of the year was. It came in the first round of the World Championships, which were held at the Olympic venue of Wembley Arena.
Chloe defeated Indonesian number one Adrianti Firdasari 13-21, 24-22, 21-13, another result that confirmed the girl from Raphoe, Co Donegal was moving in the right direction.
“Everybody wants to do well at the world championships and I got a really tough draw with the top Indonesian girl in the first round. I prepared well by watching videos of her and we got the tactics right and I played so well, something came together on the day and it was my best win of the year. I was delighted to compete at that level.”
Chloe is currently ranked 46th in the world, her highest ever position, and she credits that to making small changes in her lifestyle.
“I’ve changed so much in my game, even in the last two years. My diet is better, and my fitness and I can focus longer in training, I’m mentally better and more mature as a player. There have been a lot factors, my badminton has always been good but it’s the little things that have helped me become a better player and able to take my game to a higher level.”
Based in Dublin it’s a family affair as brother Dan coaches Chloe and she has also formed an excellent mixed doubles partnership with her younger brother Sam.
Currently they are just outside of the automatic placing for London with four months still to go to try and move up one place.
“It was just a nice distraction for a long time, it was nice to relax and play doubles but then we started to get some really good results, especially this year and we’re up to 34th in the world so whenever you get that high it’s not for fun anymore, its more serious than that.
Now I’m putting in a lot of training with Sam for the doubles and it’s tough because most players play either singles or doubles but I really enjoy it and I have the fitness to do it.”
The Olympic Council of Ireland have recognised the additional commitment and potential and have recently financially supported Chloe and Sam’s final push to qualify as a mixed doubles pair.
At the ripe old age of 23, Chloe is playing the best badminton of her life and there is still plenty to come.
“I’m still young in terms of badminton and I have a lot of years left and I want to be up there with the best, there’s no doubt about that and I just want to be the best that I can be but that’s going to take a while yet. Everyone says I have to be patient but that’s not within me, I just have to work hard and I know I can keep getting better and better.”
Freelance Sports Correspondent and Broadcaster