IRISH badminton has made huge progress and Olympic history in the past 22 years and is now raising the bar further by targeting qualification for a first doubles’ partnership in 2024. Sonia McGinn was the sport’s Olympic ground breaker in 2000, the first Irish player to qualify for a Summer Games in Sydney. Three-time Olympian Chloe Magee broke the next big barrier by becoming the first Irish player to win an Olympic match in 2008. Scott Evans, also a triple Olympian in Beijing, London and Rio, went even further by making the last 16 in 2016 and Nhat Nguyen took up the mantle with his debut in Tokyo 2020. “Nhat has recently broken into the world’s top 32 which puts him on the (premier) World Tour so the goal is not just for him to qualify for Paris but to be ranked highly enough to be among the three seeded athletes in each group,” Badminton Ireland’s Head of High Performance Daniel Magee says. “Rachel Darragh has got herself up to 70th in the world and the last woman to qualify for Tokyo was ranked 87th so she has to maintain or improve on that.”
But Ireland has never before before qualified an Olympic doubles pair and several initiatives have been put in place to help that, especially for Joshua Magee and Paul Reynolds. Sam Magee, a three-time European medallist with Chloe on the mixed doubles’ circuit, was appointed national doubles coach since Tokyo and a grant from the Olympic Federation’s ‘Make a Difference’ fund is also playing a key role.
“In Joshua and Paul we’ve got a doubles pair who are 56th in the world right now. For them to get into the top 30 they need world-class sparring and practice but, unlike bigger federations, we don’t have two or three doubles pairs at that level,” Magee explains.
Ireland’s top women’s double – Kate Frost and Moya Ryan (currently ranked world #60) – can get the necessary practice quality by training with our top men but, historically, our men had to travel abroad to get it which was physically taxing on them and costly for Badminton Ireland. By establishing, post-Rio, their own high performance training centre at the National Indoor Arena on the Sport Ireland campus they can bring world-class training partners here, a strategy already employed to help Nguyen reach his current status.
Their ‘Make a Difference’ grant has been used to employ Malaysia’s Fawwaz Zainuddin for a three-month training block (March-May) and his style of play was just as important as its quality for the men’s double. “Our sport is dominated by Asians who play a very different game from Europeans,” Magee explains. “Theirs is an attacking style with a very strong defence which is hard to hit through. “In men’s doubles that means very fast, flat play, lots of jump smashes and fast movement and getting an angle on the shuttle. It’s high tempo, aggressive play and Fawwaz has brought huge skill and intensity to their training every day. “The guys made the quarter-finals of the Polish international Challenge after just a month’s training with him. They met a French pair in last 16 who were very fast but were well prepared to deal with that.” Ireland has qualified players to all five badminton disciplines, including mixed doubles, at the European Games in Kraków this Summer (June 21-July 2). “Having Fawwaz here has given us the best possible lead into the European Games which is also an Olympic qualification event so we’re absolutely delighted with the support we’ve received from the OFI,” Magee says.