"Not everyone has the experience of three Olympics" - Chloe Magee and Scott Evans prepare for toughest Games yet

The pair will represent Ireland in individual badminton events in Rio this week

Chloe Magee

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

Scott Evans left school at the age of 16 to pursue his dream of becoming a champion badminton player. 

Evans was claiming titles during his younger teenage years, but with no systems in place to nurture his gift, he left in search of somewhere he could. Denmark became a second home. Here he would develop and hone his talents, helping him to capture national titles here in Ireland for eight consecutive years between 2005, and 2012.

The 28-year-old is widely regarded as the finest badminton player this country has ever seen.

And while his early years away from home weighed heavily upon him, Evans has gained experience and maturity during his time away from home. But has spending nearly half his life away from home created a disconnect from the country he will represent at the Olympics?

"Of course I still feel the connection, Ireland is my home and always will be," he tells Newstalk.com. "Every time I fly into Dublin I get a really special feeling. I’ve been in Denmark for nearly 12 years now, so it’s also a big part of my life as well.

"At the beginning when I moved it was very difficult because I had to learn the language and make new friends. You almost have to make a new life for yourself. I’ve been very lucky to meet some wonderful people and generally the people over there are very nice. I’ve been very lucky to meet people along the way."

Fast forward to 2016 and he's now joined by Chloe Magee at the Marino Institute of Education where a final exhibition night is held for members of Badminton Ireland to wish their Olympians luck. And in their droves, they do just that. The event is very family-orientated and supporters wait patiently to wish the pair luck before politely asking for pictures and autographs. It's hard to imagine that this is the norm for them.

"I think there’s a lot of interest and it’s growing all the time in Ireland," Magee explains. "Clubs came from Wexford and all over to watch this exhibition. It’s important for them to see the game and see badminton at a higher level than what you get to see normally.

"I think badminton still has a very low profile in Ireland and when it comes around to the Olympics that people tend to think about the boxers. It’s obviously tough for the smaller sports but I think badminton is growing and is definitely getting bigger. This time around there’s been a lot of hype once again but it’s only every four years that you get your hype around badminton. It’s kind of sad because it’s a great game but I definitely believe that it’s growing in confidence."

Magee grew up in Raphoe, Co. Donegal, where the GAA has been one of the predominant sporting cultures in the county, especially over the last 25 years.

"I just think I was always a little bit more talented at badminton and that’s the path I went down. I come from a very small town and going to Dublin and making three Olympics from there is something I’m very proud of."

The duo enter their third Olympic Games with vast experience, knowledge and understanding of their sport at the highest level. They dedicated most of their lives to the sport, but like many of those who hold a low profile in Ireland, their achievements aren't routinely praised.

"I think that’s quite normal when you have sports like boxing that get medals at each Olympics, then of course people will be paying more attention to boxing," Evans says. "Again, badminton is definitely growing in this country and a big part of it is not only for our careers but as well it’s to build our own game.

"We get good media for badminton every four years, but it’s down to us to try and keep pushing that on the years when it’s not and the three years after the Olympics is when we need to put the work in. Of course we’re putting the work in. At some point we hope that the media will get on board as well and do a little bit more because at the end of the day it’s them that have to get on board with it as well.

"Over the last couple of years we’ve found that more and more journalists and different media outlets are getting more involved. Seeing a game that maybe they haven’t seen before and come to see us play, maybe they think ‘Wow, this is an amazing game’.

"That’s what we aim for at the end of the day, we’re looking to create a legacy for the sport when we stop whenever that may be you know."

Scott Evans competing last June against Blagovest Kisyov of Bulgaria. Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

The little support Evans has received has also seen him cover some of his own expenses, spending between €2,000 and €3,000 travelling to Asia in an attempt to qualify for the Games.

"Funding is always going to be a challenge, but I think it’s improving every year. The athletes here in Dublin are lucky enough to use the institute of sport. That’s a huge benefit. Things are getting better all the time, so we just need to focus on doing our best and the better we do, the better things are going to get.  

"Bigger sports get more money, that’s just normal. If we were winning medals at Europeans and winning medals at World Championships then of course badminton would be a higher profile sport and we would have more funding. We’re putting our best effort it but it’s not an easy sport… You’re up against China, Indonesia, Korea. All these countries known for badminton."

Magee says she has no complaints over the quality of the facilities that she has trained in in the build-up to the Rio Games and is relishing the chance to compete in Brazil.

"I’ve been based in Dublin and did a lot of my work based out of the high performance centre here in Marino.

"I’ve trained in Abbotstown every week, so we do our physio, our strength and conditioning and our psychology out there. It’s a fantastic facility, it’s something that a lot of other countries would have had for a while. It’s great that Ireland can have that for the future coming through."

The task the pair face is certainly a difficult one. Magee comes up against China's Wang Yihan (the world's number two ranked player) as well as Karin Schnaase of Germany.

Chloe Magee won a bronze medal at the Baku European Games last year. Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie 

Evans, ranked 23 in the world, faces another German - Marc Zwiebler - who is ranked 14th. He'll also come up against Ygor Coelho De Oliveira who will have strong backing from his home crowd in Brazil. 

"Our goal is to go out and win at least a game and go into the second game having a chance of getting through the group," Evans says. "To get through the group would be great for us and for the sport [in Ireland].

"Both of us have had a good training period and that’s what we have to focus on and not really think too much about the results. If we’re there and start to think about the results, the game won’t be there on the day. We’ll focus on our tactics and make sure we’re in the right frame of mind, because if we do that we know we can achieve some brilliant results."

Focus will be a big part of their gameplan for the Olympics and this is where the experience may come into play. The temptation to be overawed by the spectacle that is the Olympic Games may not be as strong having been their twice previous.

"I think every time you go to an Olympics it’s very different," Evans adds. "We’ve been very lucky, but I think in 2008 we were very young. I don’t think in 2008 we really understood what it was all about and I don’t think either of us took in what we really should have at that point. If we had known at that point that we were going to go for and make another two or three Olympics, we really could have used that Olympics for more than what we did.

"Going into the village no matter what you do it’s going to be a different experience. But we have that experience now. We can look back to London and Beijing to benefit our games and prepare ourselves. Not everyone has three Olympics."

Their achievements up to this point have been fantastic. Both soon-to-be three-time Olympians, they have been wonderful ambassadors for the sport. Regardless of their results in Rio, they will have done their country proud. 

So what awaits them after the Games?

"I’ll take a bit of a break after the Olympics and decide where I go from there," admits Magee. "I’ll have to decide what I’ll do with my career so I’ll have to take some time to think about that. But I’ll definitely play some tournaments after Rio before December. After that, I'll think about my career."

Evans echoed these sentiments: "I’ll definitely take some time off this time around. I left Beijing on a Wednesday, landed in Copenhagen Thursday and went training Thursday night. I took no time off. London, I was in the gym the day after I lost. Of course  I went out and partied a little bit more than I usually do, but I still got into the gym. This time around I think I’ll take a little more time off, step back and see what my opportunities are."

Chloe Magee begins her campaign against on Thursday when she faces China's Wang Yihan, while Scott Evans gets underway on Friday against German Marc Zwiebler.