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Olympian Mark Downey helping family business thrive during lockdown



Olympic dream: Mark Downey, at the family business Downey Cycles in Dromore, has next year’s re-scheduled Games in his sight

Olympic dream: Mark Downey, at the family business Downey Cycles in Dromore, has next year’s re-scheduled Games in his sight

Olympic dream: Mark Downey, at the family business Downey Cycles in Dromore, has next year’s re-scheduled Games in his sight

Mark Downey puts the finishing touches to a repaired puncture and affords himself a moment to ponder realising his Olympic dream next summer in Tokyo.

Home in the Dromore, Co Down countryside, Downey, who qualified for the Tokyo Games at the start of last month, is to some degree re-living his teenage years as he helps out dad Seamus in their cycle shop, which due to the coronavirus outbreak has been booming.

"My dad is old school, no smart phone and not into tech, so he got a shock when the orders came in for bikes after I put the business on Facebook. It's crazy the way it has gone but it seems everyone wants a bike now because of this bizarre time we're all going through," said Downey, a World Championships bronze medallist in 2019.

"It's funny because I'm back doing what I did as a kid, working in Downey Cycles, and one minute I'm fixing a puncture for someone and the next my dad is saying 'do you know he's an Olympian' and they probably find it a bit hard to believe. But I'm really enjoying it. The demand is high, families just want to get out and ride so because of the virus more have become interested in cycling.

"Somebody said to me the other day that the world had become too fast, that we all needed to slow down and, although nobody wanted this pandemic, I could see their point.

"I'm taking a positive out of the situation in that it has given me quality time with my family that I haven't had in years just because when you're at the elite level in cycling it becomes a bubble and all you think about is training or the next race when you've hardly had time to finish the one you're at.

"I've had time to go for some walks and ride along the country roads and it's a ritual now that every Tuesday I go out for a cycle with my mum and dad and I share some stories about the cycling life and have a bit of craic. I've gone from preparing for the Olympics to being my dad's shop mechanic!"

Downey, who competed at the Commonwealth Games in 2018, moved to a new level last year when taking bronze in Poland at the World Championships in the Points race but admits he was left stunned when finishing well down the order in 18th spot at this year's event.

Then came the Madison race with Irish team-mate Felix English 48 hours later when they sealed their qualification for the Tokyo Games.

"In Berlin we were pretty naïve about the news that was coming from China about the virus. At that time we didn't think it would come our way," he said.

"When I finished outside of the medals in the Points race it was an emotional couple of days before the Madison event because I was wondering whether or not I had gone into decline after six hard months of competition," added Downey.

"I don't normally suffer from nerves, I'm usually very confident but I wasn't feeling great. Thankfully I had a good chat with the Sports Ireland psychologist Jessie Barr, sister of the athlete Thomas Barr.

"She spoke very well and gave me that belief that I could go out and grab my last chance at qualifying for the Games. We went out and got the job done and for just over a week I was just filled with the excitement of knowing that I was going to the Olympics.

"Then countries started pulling out and eventually the IOC announced they were postponed. It was obviously the right decision. I decided that after such an intense period I would take a break and it was only after doing that I was able to realise just how intense the six months had been leading up to the World Championships.

"The chance to wind down will do me good and I actually believe that the extra year of preparation will be to our benefit.

"We have a full year to prepare for the Olympics and that will give us the chance to do everything we need so we can close the gap on the rest.

"Usually at our training camp in Majorca I am up at around 8.00am, I take a look at the app that tells me what I have to do that day and I start training on the roads at 9.00am, go back and rest, have lunch and then train again on the track before having dinner and then going to bed.

"You feel a bit like a robot but now I can take time out and enjoy the real world - and enjoy the fact that I know I'll be going to the Olympics next summer."

Belfast Telegraph