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Rio 2016 Olympics: Richard and Peter Chambers are out to be golden boys

By Steven Beacom

The 2016 Olympics begin one year from now. The countdown to Rio is on and the Belfast Telegraph will be there every step of the way. In a special series building up to next year’s Olympics, which starts today, we will profile the Northern Ireland sports stars who have already qualified to compete in Brazil or hope to in the weeks and months to come. We kick-off by interviewing rowers Richard and Peter Chambers, who won silver at the London 2012 Games, and, with just 12 months to go, assess the dreams of some of our other Rio-bound heroes.

Just a quarter of a second. That was the difference between the winners and runners-up and how close Richard and Peter Chambers came to winning Olympic gold in London 2012.So near yet so far...

At least they had a silver lining around their necks on the podium, but next time around at the Games the rowing brothers from Coleraine are determined to cross the finishing line in front.

Today marks the one-year countdown to Rio 2016 and although there are many gruelling training sessions and important competitions to come before then, excitement is already building amongst Northern Ireland's Olympic hopefuls with the Chambers boys ready to lead the charge.

Three years ago they shared a boat in the gripping lightweight four final when, along with Chris Bartley and Rob Williams, Team GB were centimetres behind the South African quartet.

In Brazil there is every chance that Richard and Peter, bronze medal winners together in the lightweight double at the 2013 World Championships, will be competing in different disciplines.

How they perform at the forthcoming World Championships in France, which start later this month, should play a major role in that.

One thing is certain, though, both will be stretching every sinew, flexing every muscle and perfecting their techniques in order to make the GB Olympic squad and then go for gold.

Should older brother Richard, 30, qualify for Rio it will be the third time he has competed in the Games.

He is currently rowing with England's Will Fletcher in the lightweight double sculls and is enjoying the partnership. Earlier this year, the pair claimed silver in the European Championships and bronze at a World Cup regatta.

The elder Chambers said: "Hopefully I will be in Rio, though there is a lot to happen between now and next year. At the moment I am in a strong position and have performed pretty well. I just want to make sure I can keep doing that next year.

"My goal is to win a gold in Rio. I have an Olympic silver medal and I really want to go one better and will do all I can to make it happen.

"I am in a training camp now in Germany and coming up we have the World Championships. I have to trust the training programme and make sure I get as much out of each day as I possibly can.

"We have a big mountain to climb at the World Championships. We have to beat France which is the standout boat. With us as a new combination this year, to be on the podium would be a good starting block for us and something to build on going into the Olympic year."

Asked what boat he expects to be in in Rio, Richard, who has a four-year-old son Joshua and one-year-old daughter Alex, said: "I think I will stick to the double. That is what I will work towards. I will work on my sculling and my technique and will make sure the boat is as fast as it can be.

"Will Fletcher beside me is a really strong, talented athlete and someone I can learn a lot from. I think the possibilities with Will are really exciting.

"At the end of the day though it is all about selection and there could be someone who comes along, possibly my brother, who could bump me out of it. That is the nature of sport and then I would hope to go into the four and get the most out of that."

On his 25-year-old brother, who is emerging as a team leader in GB's lightweight four, Richard stated: "Peter is doing really well. He's in good shape in the four. He's bringing something to that four and is standing out and leading it. He knows what he needs to do to get it on the podium and make it win."

Peter and Joel Cassells secured gold this year in the European Championships in the men's lightweight pair, but the Coleraine native will go to the World Championships (August 30-September 6) in Aiguebelette as part of the lightweight four.

This begs the question, does he want to compete in Rio in a four or two-man boat? "It depends on how things go. I wouldn't rule either out because we have to do so many trials between now and Rio," said Peter. "I haven't had much time to think about the Olympics but it will be a massive occasion and very exciting.

"There will be a big build-up to it and I'm sure it will come around pretty quickly.

"It was brilliant in London and it would be fantastic to experience it all again. We were close to winning gold in 2012 and the dream would be to go one better in Rio."

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Martyn Irvine (Cycling)

Martyn Irvine has a score to settle with the Olympics.

In London 2012, he finished 13th in the Omnium event, which is basically cycling’s version of the decathlon.

The Newtownards native felt he should have done better.

His future results suggested he had a point.

Fully fit and firing, Irvine  is a world-class competitor, not an also ran.

In the 2013 World Track Championships in Minsk, he produced one of the gutsiest performances ever seen by a Northern Ireland sports star when winning gold in the 15km Scratch race. He also claimed silver in the Individual Performance in what turned out to be a hugely successful meeting for the 30-year-old.

Twelve months later, he took home silver from the Scratch event at the World Championships and this year he finished 10th having returned to action from a broken collarbone.

Should Irvine make it to the 2016 Olympics, he is likely to compete in the Omnium again.

While he didn’t shine in London, he has pedigree in the multi-discipline event having finished third in the European Championships.

Come Rio, his sights will be on competing for more honours.

Regardless of how Irvine does, you can always be sure he’ll give you an honest assessment of his performance.

 He has won multiple national titles and medals at the Commonwealth Games, European and World Championships. An Olympic medal would complete the set.

Alan Campbell (Rowing)

From a Northern Ireland perspective, one of the most memorable sights at the London 2012 Olympics was seeing rower Alan Campbell on the podium crying his eyes out... with joy.

The popular Coleraine man couldn’t hide his emotion as he stood during the medal ceremony, having won a hard-fought bronze in the single sculls event.

The day before the Chambers brothers, Richard and Peter, had won silver in the lightweight four final meaning that the county Londonderry town had secured three Olympic medals in the space of just two days.

“It’s unbelievable. I’m proud to be part of an achievement like that,” an exhausted but deliriously happy Campbell said when quizzed about the Coleraine feat after his race.

A year ago few would have said the same could happen in Rio, but Campbell’s stunning return to form means that the mission is no longer impossible.

Campbell, 32, wants another shot at the Olympics and has been selected for the Team GB rowing outfit for the forthcoming World Championships after finishing third in the final of the single sculls at a World Cup regatta last month.

That represented quite a comeback for Campbell, who, frustrated by injury problems, had prior to then not managed a podium spot at an international regatta since June 2013.

Campbell showed in London he is a man for the grand occasion and would savour competing again in another Olympic final in Rio.

Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern (Sailing)

Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern are one of Northern Ireland’s most successful sporting double acts.

 It’s a pity the dynamic duo aren’t as well known as they deserve to be but all that would change next year in Rio if they were to win a medal at the Olympics.

 That will be the aim for Bangor’s McGovern and Carrickfergus native Seaton.

 Last year during the World Championships in Santander, the pair, representing Ireland in the 49er class, secured their qualification for Rio, finishing eighth in the competition.

 It won’t be the first time they have competed in the Olympics together. McGovern and Seaton were at London 2012, ending up in 14th position. The two Ballyholme Yacht club members felt they could have done better and that will help fuel their desire in Rio.

 Since 2012, they have had some notable results, such as two years ago when the Ulstermen clinched the 49er title at the prestigious Sail for Gold event in Weymouth while in 2014 they finished second overall in the 49er class at the World Cup regatta in France. 

Those results gave them belief that they have what it takes.

 Bangor’s James Espey is also set to sail in the Olympics. Espey qualified the Irish Laser Standard boat for Rio last year. It would be a shock if he is not at the Games.

Paddy Barnes (Boxing)

Paddy Barnes will go to the Rio Olympics with one thing in mind: to bring home a gold medal for his beautiful young daughter Eireann.

The respected boxer already has two bronze medals from his previous Games experiences in Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

It is a different colour of treasure, however, that the light flyweight is determined to return to Belfast with. “I would be training hard anyway, but the thought of bringing gold back home to my little girl will make me train even harder. I’d love to be able to hang a gold medal around her neck,” he told the Belfast Telegraph earlier this year.

Barnes qualified for the Olympics back in April courtesy of his outstanding record in the World Series of Boxing and will line out as part of the Ireland team in Brazil.

Known for his love of fun and Twitter, Paddy will have a few tricks up his sleeve. He has razor-sharp wit, but the 28-year-old can also hit and will go far in his division. Since winning bronze in London, Barnes looked a class apart when retaining his Commonwealth title in Glasgow.

Ashleigh Baxter (Rugby)

Ulster winger Ashleigh Baxter has already played a part in making history for women’s rugby in Ireland.

 But the 23-year-old Cooke player is far from finished... she is hoping to create some more by helping the Ireland women’s Sevens team reach the Rio Olympics.

The first phase of the plan was completed last month when Ireland came second in European Olympic qualifying in Lisbon. Defeat to Spain in the final didn’t damage their qualification with the top three sides all going through to the next stage, the World Olympic qualifying.

Baxter is the only Ulster woman in the squad. Her big-time experience is vital.

Ashleigh was part of Ireland’s Grand Slam women’s squad in the Six Nations 2013 and featured when the team made it to the World Cup semi-finals last summer, beating New Zealand on the way.

It would be a major boost if Ashleigh and co qualified for the first Rugby Sevens competition in Olympic history.

Ireland’s men are also hoping to be in Brazil, including Ballynahinch duo Aaron Cairns and David McGuigan.

Rory McIlroy (Golf)

Rory McIlroy may be injured at the moment, but he’ll be fit and well when the Olympics start next year.

The World No 1 has already won three of golf’s four Major titles (The Open, US Open and US PGA) and would be thrilled to add a gold medal to his long list of honours.

Golf will be played at the Games next year for the first time since 1904.

Already 26-year-old McIlroy has created headlines in terms of his participation. Born and bred in Northern Ireland, there was much debate as to which team he would declare for: Team GB or Team Ireland.

In the end he chose the latter, having even considered the option of not playing at all due to the controversy surrounding his decision.

Hopefully everyone will be talking about the Holywood star’s golfing genius rather than which anthem will be played if he wins gold.

McIlroy may not be the only Ulster golfer at the Games. Portrush’s Graeme McDowell would love to make it with qualification based on world rankings while Jordanstown’s Stephanie Meadow hopes to represent the Irish female team.

Aileen Reid (Triathlon)

Aileen Reid had a rough ride at the London 2012 Olympics.

The Londonderry triathlon star finished 43rd in her event and suffered a bad fall in the cycling section of the competition, which took place in Hyde Park.

Conducting tearful interviews after the race, blood dripped from her arm as a result of that nasty looking crash.

 She said: “It wasn’t to be. I will have good races again in the future.”

And boy was she right, getting back on her bike and running and swimming to a series of excellent performances around the globe in the three years since.

Reid has become one of the top competitors in her sport, consistently finishing in the top 10 in major events.

Aileen is a cert to race for Ireland in the 2016 Games and was given a feel for what is to come next year when she competed in an Olympic Test Event in Rio on Sunday.

Prior to that the 33-year-old had top 10 finishes in her previous four races. At the Commonwealths last year against a high-class field, Reid finished sixth. She will be hoping for more at the Olympics.

Ulster hockey players

Out of all the sports taking place at the Rio Olympics, hockey could provide the biggest representation from Northern Ireland.

That will depend largely on whether Ireland qualify or not. But following the World League in Antwerp last month, they are well placed to do so. Only surprise results in other tournaments will see them miss out.

At the very latest, the Ireland team, and the many Ulster players involved in it, will know their fate by October.

What is already certain is that the Team GB hockey squad will be in Brazil for the 2016 Games and three Northern Ireland players are likely to make the journey.

Mark Gleghorne, David Ames and Iain Lewers all did their bit in July’s World League by qualifying for the semi-finals, which was enough to secure their Olympic place.

Lewers, a former Irish international, knows all about competing for GB in the Olympics.

He was part of the squad in London 2012 when the team lost out on a medal when Australia beat them 3-1 to claim a bronze, with ex-Annadale star Lewers scoring for the home nation.

Should Ireland qualify, it will be some achievement for the Gleghorne family because Mark is a key figure in the GB team and his brother Paul plays for Ireland!

Michael Conlan (Boxing)

It has been a fine year for the Conlan family... Michael qualified for the 2016 Olympics and brother Jamie won an epic battle in Dublin, advancing his professional career.

Next year could be even better for both with Jamie potentially moving closer to a world title fight and Michael perhaps claiming a gold medal in Rio.

Like his good pal Paddy Barnes, Conlan made sure of his spot aboard the Team Ireland plane to Brazil through the World Series of Boxing in April.

This followed last year’s success at the Commonwealth Games when he became bantamweight champion despite suffering cuts throughout the competition.

The Conlans, whose dad John coached the Northern Ireland Commonwealth Games Boxing squad to nine medals in Glasgow, have big hearts.

And Michael knows he will need all his courage and undoubted class to go all the way in Brazil in what promises to be a competitive weight division.

His experience in London 2012 should certainly help his cause. Back then he was a 20-year-old Games rookie but he showed his talent to reach the flyweight semi-finals, eventually ending up with a bronze.

Conlan is a confident and capable young man, and after recently getting engaged, he will feel there could be more to celebrate in Rio with a gold medal for company.

After the Olympics, Michael has plans to join his brother Jamie in the professional arena.

Kerry O'Flaherty (Athletics)

Kerry O’Flaherty is in the shape of her life and running the races of her life.

So much so that the 34-year-old 3,000m steeplechaser recently achieved the qualification marks for both the World Championships in Beijing in August and the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

The Newcastle woman has much to smile about these days following her superb effort in Letterkenny in July when she shattered the Northern Ireland record.

And all this after overcoming a series of injury problems.

The impressive run last month took nine seconds off her previous mark and was her sixth personal best of the year which includes two over the 1,500 metres distance.

Kerry finished ahead of Irish rivals Michelle Quinn and Sarah Treacy, who also ran the Olympic standard.

O’Flaherty, who competed in the Commonwealth Games for Northern Ireland last year, has high hopes of running well in the World Championships and will then turn her attentions to the Olympics, assuming she is selected by the Irish team.

North Belfast athlete Breege Connolly should join Kerry in Brazil. Breege achieved the Olympic qualifying standard at the London Marathon this year.

Both ladies are inspirational to other Northern Ireland athletes, including 1,500m ace Ciara Mageean from Portaferry who is hopeful of making it to Rio herself having displayed fine form of late.

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