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Mark Downey follows family cycle of success but faces anxious wait for Tokyo Olympics green light

Mark Downey will race in the Madison event at the Tokyo Olympics. Pic Philip Walsh.
Andy Watters

MARK Downey realised a lifelong dream when he qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, following in the footsteps of his dad Seamus who competed in the Los Angeles Games in 1982.

But now the World Championship medallist, who will compete in the Madison event with Felix English in Tokyo, is facing an agonising wait to see if the Games go ahead.

The Olympics are scheduled to begin on July 24 and run until August 9 and the International Olympic Committee remains adamant that they will go ahead. However, it is becoming clear that even if they do start on time it'll be almost impossible for athletes to be in proper shape to compete.

Squad training sessions have been ruled out but at least Downey can get out on the roads around his home in Dromore, county Down. In Spain cyclists aren't even allowed out to do that now.

“They've introduced a E2000 fine if you're caught out on the bike in Spain,” Mark explained.

“It's mental. I was wondering what that was all about but the reason is that if you have an accident or something they have to give up a hospital bed to treat you. So when you put it in that perspective, it makes sense.”

Himself and his Madison partner English left it late to qualify for Tokyo but they sealed their spots in the final race of the track season.

“It was nice to come home afterwards and enjoy the moment but it is a wee bit demoralising seeing all the bad news coming out,” says Mark.

“You're trying to prepare for something but you don't actually know when the event is going to be. The authorities have said the Olympics are still going ahead but at the minute it's all up in the air.

“The one reassuring thing is that I have qualified. It would be a lot harder to see the end goal if you had all the stress and the pressure of having to qualify and to be sitting now not knowing when you need to prepare to race again.

“It's nice to know that if the Olympics are in August or in August next year I'm definitely going to be on the plane. That'll inspire me to be in really good shape for whenever it is on.”

Although they left qualification late, Downey and English both have impressive pedigree on their bikes. They won gold at a round of the World Cup in Los Angeles in 2017, Downey took a bronze medal on the points race at the World Track Championships last year in Poland and English won scratch race gold at the UCI World Cup in Glasgow last November.

“We qualified 15th but I don't think it's a true reflection on how our second year of qualifying went,” said Downey.

“In the first year we were always outside the top 10, we couldn't get going at all and then this year we had to two sevenths and an eighth place. Our World Championship result was 11th, the performance wasn't really that good but we got the job done.

“I believe that if me and Felix perform to our best we can definitely finish a lot better than top 15.”

On following in his dad's footsteps, the Banbridge Cycling Club star added: “It's pretty special. My dad doesn't give much away and he's usually very level-headed but when I came home he gave me a big hug and he was pretty happy and pretty proud.

“He held down a teaching job when he went to the Olympics but sport has really changed since then and I have thrown the kitchen sink at this.

“I think he was really happy that all my hard work has paid off.”

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