Jack Woolley looking to make a lasting impression during his one-day stay at the Tokyo Olympics

'We literally weigh in on the 24th, fight on the 25th, have the medal ceremony and they’re literally putting me on a plane'
Jack Woolley looking to make a lasting impression during his one-day stay at the Tokyo Olympics

Jack Woolley during the Tokyo 2020 Official Team Announcement at South Dublin Martial Arts & Fitness in Dublin. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

An Olympics can come at you fast. A lifetime of ambition and effort, four (or, in this case, five) years spent spinning through a Games cycle, and it can all slip seamlessly into the past tense in the time it takes to boil a kettle.

Rio in 2016 was just the latest proof of this fleeting life. Ciara Everard’s moment lasted just under two minutes and eight seconds, the Kilkenny woman’s effort in the 800m hampered by a foot injury that had hamstrung her preparations.

Brendan Irvine will be hoping his 2020 experience lasts longer than his debut five years ago when the flyweight was one and done in the ring. He did at least lose out to Shakhobidin Zoirov, the Uzbekistani boxer who went on to take gold.

The Belfast man was in good company: Katie Taylor fought just once in Brazil too.

The nature of this Covid Games will inevitably constrict the experience even more, regardless of performance. Athletes who are done competing must depart Japan within a day of their events which means that Team Ireland will be lighter by four come Monday.

Dan Martin, Nicholas Roche and Eddie Dunbar will compete in the men’s road race at Musashinonomori Park on Saturday while Jack Woolley will, hopefully, be the first of Ireland’s medal prospects to jostle for a podium spot that same evening.

Taekwondo’s elimination rounds take place at Makuhari Messe Hall A on Saturday morning and it would be a major shock were the Tallaght man not back there again hours later to compete for a medal which he believes is well within his compass.

One way or another, though, his Olympics will be over come Sunday.

“All my fights are on the same day. In boxing you have one fight and then the next day you have another one, but we literally weigh in on the 24th, I think it is, fight on the 25th. All your fights are on the 25th, have the medal ceremony on the 25th, and they’re literally putting me on a plane home.

“It’s tough but that’s the way it’s been, that’s the way I’m used to it. It’s going to be crazy. I just know when I get home, no matter what the result is, I’m going to be sat at home turning on the telly and the Olympics will be on and I’ll be like 'I was just there!' That’s really strange. Hopefully, they’ll still be talking about me if I win gold!

Woolley, like so many Olympians, has had to overcome great adversity to give himself this shot at glory. He missed out on Rio by a whisker, won gold at the Polish Open only to find out his grandmother had passed away at the same time, and nearly lost his father to meningitis.

He came out as bisexual before the 2016 Games but admitted subsequently that he regretted putting any sort of label on himself and declared his wish that he be known not for his sexuality but for his prowess on the mat.

He is already a trailblazer in being the first Irish representative in his sport to make the Games and, having struggled initially to find his voice in the elite sports environment, he now describes himself as confident and maybe bordering on cocky.

Woolley is well set for his crack at the big time. It’s December of 2019 since he qualified for Tokyo and the 12-month delay occasioned by the pandemic, the lockdowns and the freeze on so much sporting action has done him little or no harm.

“It’s actually been a lot in my favour because lots of things are changing for this Olympics. With the postponement and the extra time I’ve had a year to get better and stronger because I used to fight the lower weight (54kgs) and it’s just given me more time to develop into a better athlete.

“The training facilities at the start (of the pandemic) weren’t great. I had to train at home with the equipment that Sport Ireland lent me, but we got back in quick enough after the first lockdown when we got the exemption to train as elite sportspeople, so I didn’t find that affected me too much.”

His moment is now and he is ready.

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