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big hitters All roads point to the Olympics as Ireland's hopefuls build momentum

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Ciara Mageean of Ireland

Ciara Mageean of Ireland

Ciara Mageean of Ireland

The successes of Ireland’s boxers in the Olympic qualifying tournament last weekend mean that our team for Tokyo is taking shape.

Unless some other, as yet unforeseen, trouble is thrown at the 2020 Olympic Games, it seems certain now that they will go ahead in Japan at the end of next month. Using the old ‘too big to fail’ adage, It is now surely too late to call the Olympics off.

When we get to Tokyo, our boxers, rowers and horsemen and women will be the most likely source of a precious medal or two. Thomas Barr will give his all in the 400m hurdles on the Athletics track, but even he admits that the standard has moved on in his race since he finished an agonising fourth in the Rio final five years ago.

Ciara Mageean will have a right go too in the Women’s 1500m. But the depth of talent in this race is such that actually getting into the final would be a huge achievement by the star of County Down – never mind finishing in the first three.

There is another sport, however, in which Ireland have to have strong hopes of success, and that is golf. Our men’s team, right now it would be Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry, will be the second strongest in the world. After all what other country, bar America, will send a team that has won five Majors?

A change in the rules from five years ago means that the USA are no longer certain of being able to call on any golfer in the world in the top 15 in the rankings. Now they can only send a maximum of four golfers, and that’s that.

And if many Americans in the top 15, such as Dustin Johnson or Brooks Koepka, opt out of travelling the USA won’t even have four competitors.

Put it this way, the quality of the field Rory and Shane will have to beat in Tokyo will be nowhere near as strong as the one they will have to see off in next week’s US Open.

Mind you one man they will have to beat is Hideki Matsuyama, the pride of Japan in the wake of his Masters victory and who is expected by all his countrymen and women to bring home the golf gold medal.

It’ll be the same for Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow, who might be our team chasing victory in the Women’s golf. Every week, when they tee it up on the US LPGA Tour, they find any number of top-class American and South Koreans there whom they have to beat.

Again, in Tokyo, that number falls to four for those countries. It will make our ladies’ task a lot easier.

However one possible Irish medallist who probably won’t make the Games is cyclist Sam Bennett. He hasn’t said yea or nay yet to taking up one of Ireland’s three places in the Olympic Road Race on Saturday, July 24th. But that date is just six days after Sam hopes to sprint down the Champs-Elysees in triumph at the last stage of the Tour de France.

And there’s another problem. The route for the Tokyo Road Race takes the riders over the lower slopes of Mount Fuji a couple of times, it is a really hard course much more suited to the talents of climbers Dan Martin, Nicolas Roche and Eddie Dunbar than Sam.

Maybe Sam will wait for Paris in three years time to try and achieve his Olympic dream.

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A look at the map says there is no Mount Fuji anywhere near the City of Light!

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