Badminton player Magee makes her mark against Korea's best
Published 11/08/2008 | 10:14
A tiny Donegal teenager, who pumps herself up beforehand by blasting dance music through her headphones, bowed out of her first Olympics yesterday.
But not before the little Irish pocket-rocket had won over local badminton afficionados, and certainly marked herself out as 'one to watch for London 2012'.
Leaving a tearful Estonian, who was ranked nearly 30 places higher, in her wake in the first round, Chloe Magee (19) lost to Korea's Jaey Youn Jun in badminton's last 32 yesterday in two sets (21-12, 21-14).
But that was no disgrace.
Jun is currently ranked 11th in the world, and should be even higher as she is coming back from knee surgery.
Magee's ranking? 74th!
Yet the relatively inexperienced 5'5" teen star showed she's a fabulously feisty bit of stuff who looks set to make her mark in future years as she amasses even more top-class experience.
She had never played Korea's No 1 before but pushed her relentlessly for 28 minutes.
One rally had 31 strokes and the average had 12. Even at the end of the second set Magee refused to give in and saved the first match point.
She wasn't a bit fazed; not by the 7,500 arena, not by a superstar ranked 63 places higher than her, not even by the fact that none of her parents or seven siblings were there, with health problems unfortunately stopping her Dad, Sammy -- 'Mr Badminton' back in Raphoe -- from making the trip.
Only boyfriend Brendan Hennessy could make it, but that didn't matter because the locals took her to their hearts.
To them, a little Irish girl scoring at all off an Asian at badminton was like a Chinese guy hooking Henry Shefflin in the All-Ireland, and they just loved her gutsy, never-say-die attitude.
After finishing her Leaving Cert, and aged only 17, it was Magee's gutsy competitive streak that convinced her to go to Sweden to train full-time two years ago, because, she explained pragmatically "no one in Ireland was able to beat me."
It was a big wrench, she admitted yesterday.
"I hated it at first, almost gave up in the first six months with the full-time training, especially the running -- I hate running!" she said, despite her contradictory speed around the court to return seemingly irretrievable drop-shots.
Trailing by just four points (11-15) in the first set she dropped four points in-a-row to lose it 21-12 and, trailing by just 5-7 in the second, then conceded six consecutive points from which it was impossible to recover.
But delighted coach, Jim Laugeson, a former doubles star for Europe's top badminton nation Denmark, was thrilled with the youngster who has recently come under his charge.
"She played even better than she did on Saturday," he enthused. "Her positioning, shot selection and decision-making on court were very good.
"Obviously she still needs a lot of technical work, on her footwork particularly, but if she gets these things right Chloe has a very big future.
"Mentally she is very strong," he said. "She likes it when she is up against it, when she is involved in decisive moments, and you have to like being under pressure at this level."
For the bubbly teenager herself, her two-game Olympic debut was an invaluable experience. "I'd say 3,000 was probably the biggest crowd I had ever played in front of, so this would be good for me if I do go to London," she said.
She is now moving to Denmark to train under Laugeson, who already coaches Ireland's top male player, Dubliner Scott Evans, who went out in the first round on Saturday, losing narrowly to Germany's Marc Zwiebler 19-21 in the third set.
"I have loads to improve on and I will take away a lot from this is," Magee said. "The fitness is the main thing. The court here was very slow, so that means you can have lots of rallies without winning points."
It was a pretty big step-up because she was an Asian. Between Korea, China, Malaysia and Indonesia, they have all the best badminton players in the world. To try and compete with her was just so tough, but a good experience.
"But I am young enough that, if I wanted to, I'd have two more Olympics in me," she said cheerfully, and with good reason.