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'Pretty special': Dromore cyclist Mark Downey seals Olympic spot with crucial result at World Championship

Mark Downey

Dromore cyclist Mark Downey has followed in his father's footsteps by sealing a spot at this summer's Olympic Games.

The 23-year-old, and his Madison partner Felix English, booked Ireland's Tokyo tickets after an 11th place-finish at Sunday's Track World Championship in Berlin; their final opportunity to qualify.

"I'm absolutely over the moon," said Downey, who is almost certain to be selected for the summer tournament. "It's been a long process for two years now.

"We woke up this morning and the two of us were so, so nervous because we knew we couldn’t make one mistake.

"We've had our backs up against the wall now for a year and a half and we've done it at the last hurdle so that’s pretty special."

The Ireland duo went into the race one spot outside the qualifying places and their hopes appeared to take an early blow when both Hong Kong and Portugal, their principal rivals, scored points during the opening stages of the 200-lap (50km) race.

However, as the searing pace took its toll, Hong Kong was forced to retire while Portugal lost a lap resulting in a 20-point deduction.

As the race wore on, Ireland capitalised and picked up three points with just three sprint opportunities remaining. The late score saw Ireland jump up the rankings and provisionally secure Olympic qualification by the narrowest of margins.

Downey, whose father Seamus raced in the 1984 Olympic Games, was left frustrated by his performance in the points race on Friday night but he used that as a source of motivation when he teamed up with English on Sunday.

"The feeling I had was just frustration more so than disappointment, because I had worked so hard over the last two years to get ourselves in this position, and I just didn’t deliver on Friday night and I don’t really know why," said Downey, who will take some time off before linking up with French amateur road race team Cote d’Armor.

"I just used the frustration out on the field today."

English is already looking at the areas they can improve on in an event that was dominated yesterday by the Danish pair Lasse Norman Hansen, who used to race with Irish cycling team Aqua Blue Sport, and Michael Morkov who was just released from an coronavirus quarantine on Saturday.

"It's weird, I'm almost more relieved than happy," said English.

"I know there's so much more we can improve on in how it's been in the last two years.

"We've made, in my opinion, mistake after mistake and now that we've done it I can see how much better we can be. Now we've got a fresh slate to start again, we can show what we’re capable of in August in Tokyo."

The result follows in the pedal-strokes of the women's team of Lydia Boylan and Lydia Gurley, who secured qualification on Saturday in Berlin. The Olympic places will be officially ratified this week.

Belfast Telegraph