Irish duo ‘had their backs against the wall’ as they only just qualify for Tokyo 2020 Olympics

The Madison pairing needed to beat two other nations to be in with a chance of riding the Olympics

(Image credit: AFP via Getty Images)

The Irish men’s Madison duo narrowly managed to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, in a tense race at the Track World Championships.

Felix English and Mark Downey went into the Worlds Madison in Berlin needing to beat both Portugal and Hong Kong to be in with a chance at riding in Tokyo this summer, and racing got off to a rocky start.

Both Hong Kong and Portugal scored early in the 50km race, putting the Irishmen on the back foot as their Olympic dreams began to fade.

But Downey and English countered, as the Hong Kong team were forced to retired and Portugal fell a lap behind.

Late in the race, the pair picked up three points with just a handful of scoring opportunities, giving them enough distance to narrowly secure provision qualification for Tokyo.

Downey said: ‘I’m absolutely over the moon. It’s been a long process for two years now and I think we needed 101 things to go our way today.

“We woke up this morning and the two of us were so nervous because we knew we just couldn’t make one mistake and it just goes to show that yeah, we’ve had our backs up against the wall for near a year and a half and we’ve done it in the last race, so that’s pretty special.”

The pair needed to finish five places ahead of Hong Kong and they needed to just beat Portugal to keep their hopes alive.

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English added: “It was just mad.

“We knew those top-five teams were just going to be untouchable essentially, and then we had two teams we needed to look at.”

One team that didn’t manage to break through like the Irish team was the Belgian women’s team pursuit squad, who missed out on the Olympics by two tenths of a second.

The Belgian TP squad needed to beat the French team to make it to Tokyo, but fell just behind their rivals.

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Alex Ballinger

Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.  Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.