Shane Lowry spoke of his “anguish” at being forced to give up on his Olympic medal dream over his fears of contracting the Zika virus in Rio.
But West Waterford’s Seamus Power — the next man in line to qualify after Lowry joined Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell in making himself unavailable — insists he’s massively excited about the “once in a lifetime opportunity” to chase Olympic gold.
“I don’t care what sport you play,” Power said. “It would be an achievement to win an Olympic medal and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity I wouldn’t pass up.”
Fears over the Zika, which is linked to brain deformities in newborn babies, forced recently married Lowry to reluctantly turn down the chance to battle for gold as golf returns to the Games after a 112-year absence.
“It is with a very heavy heart that I have had to make the decision over the past couple of days to withdraw from the upcoming Olympic games this August,” Lowry said in a statement, just hours after world No 1 Jason Day said he would also be joining fellow Australians Adam Scott and Marc Leishman, South Africans Charl Schwartzel, Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen, Fiji’s Vijay Singh and Ireland’s top trio on the sidelines.
Lowry added: “Myself and my management team have been closely monitoring the Zika virus situation in South America, but based on a number of consultations with leading medical experts in recent days, I feel I would be putting my family’s health at risk by being in Brazil at the current time.
“Wendy and I have just recently been married and we hope to be lucky enough to have a family in the near future. Based on these circumstances, I have received firm medical advice I should not travel to Rio this summer.
“I have not taken this decision lightly and it has been a source of much anguish for me over the past week. I am a very proud Irishman and I love my country.
“Hence, I was really looking forward to walking out behind the Tricolour with the rest of the Irish Olympic team in Rio.
“While I am bitterly disappointed to be missing out on the opportunity to win an Olympic medal for Ireland, on this occasion I have to put my family’s welfare first.
“I think most Irish people know what my country means to me. Representing Ireland has been a huge source of pride for me over the years and will continue to be in the future.”
Ranked 283rd in the world, Power would qualify for the 60-man Olympic competition if the team were picked today though Paul Dunne or Michael Hoey can still overtake him before the July 11 deadline with big performances in the Open de France or the Scottish Open over the next fortnight.
Power has no fears about Zika or a trip to Brazil having already played in Sao Paolo on the Web.com Tour in early April, “I am not really concerned about Zika,” he said.
“I am in a different position in that I don’t have any immediate plans to have kids or anything. Plus I have been in Brazil already this year and I know the lie of the land.
“When you get there, the talk of Zika is not nearly at the same scale as some of the media outlets would lead you to believe. I have no concerns anyway. I would definitely go.”
With few athletes from other sports withdrawing over the Zika virus and with the women’s golf stars remaining committed, Ireland’s team leader for golf, Paul McGinley admitted that addition of Day and Lowry to the list of withdrawals did not reflect well in men’s golf.
“When an individual takes a decision for personal reasons, I don’t think it is my job or my duty or my right to try to convince him,” McGinley said.
“He discussed this with his wife Wendy and they have come to this decision and we and the Olympic Council of Ireland, respect that decision.”
McGinley added: “It is obviously a disappointment from an Irish perspective we have lost two of the favourites in Rory and Shane and then Graeme McDowell - three world class players.
“For a little country like ours it would have been great to go there as one of the favourites in a very difficult sport like golf.
“But we move on. I think Pádraig will be a tremendous addition not just to the golf team but to the irish team in general.
“Being around the athletes, supporting the other athletes, his personality, his gravitas as a sports person particularly in Ireland will reflect well on all of the Irish athletes.
“As Irish people we are normally very good when we are underdogs. And you never know, this might work to our advantage.”
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