Monday 22 October 2018

Caradh's dream to reach Tokyo 2020

Caradh O’Donovan from the Strandhill Road is aiming for Tokyo 2020
Caradh O’Donovan from the Strandhill Road is aiming for Tokyo 2020
Caradh on the podium after the World Cup in Italy

Emma Gallagher

A Sligo athlete is training full time and competing around the world with the aim of reaching the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Caradh O'Donovan, from the Strandhill Road, is a former kickboxer and is now a full-time karate athlete. Since karate has now been included in the 2020 Games, she decided to make the move from kickboxing, where she was ranked no 2 in the World last year, an incredible feat for the 33-year-old. Now her sights are firmly set on winning more titles in karate and paving her way to the 2020 Olympics, it will cost lots of time, travel, training and money but Caradh is determined to get there.

She told the Sligo Champion: "I'm from Sligo but based in Dublin where I'm training full time. I work as athletes' mentor when I have time, as part of the Sport for Schools initiative and I was also a mentor with the Sky Sports Programme before it finished up. I love that area of work as it so flexible and gives me time to train and travel too."

Caradh's many successes so far in kickboxing include multiple National Titles, Europeans Championships and World Cups. Now with karate included in the next Olympics, she's decided to make the transition to that sport to get her hands on the medal she most wants to win, an Olympic medal.

Her journey to where she is now began many years ago in her native Sligo with the Mugendo club and coach Michael McDermott. "I started training there 21 years ago when I was 12. I worked my way up and then after moving to Dublin for college I joined Kickboxing Tallaght." She has won quite an array of titles, from Nationals, Europeans, 3 Worlds, different World titles and all the World Cups as part of the World series.

"I won every one that I wanted to do in kickboxing so that's why I made the official break-away. I made the move as I wanted to see did I like it, was it something I could stick with and whether I could enjoy it." Caradh said the biggest thing was the huge difference as kickboxing is far more about contact, while karate is so much more technical. "That was the biggest challenge for me," she added. It wasn't a challenge the Sligo athlete couldn't master as three months after making the switch, she became Senior National Champion. "I suppose that was a really good boost for me as there are more numbers doing karate. My coach is Paul Brennan and he's with the IKKU (Irish Kenpo Karate Union), he's also the Head Coach for the Irish team. I didn't realise that at the start, it was all for luck and it's a good boost having such a great coach as there was a lot learning to do."

Caradh, since moving to karate, has won a National title, bronze at the Irish Open where there was a good selection of international fighters there and she also won another international event. "I was selected for the Irish squad too. I've big plans for this year I was kind of split between kickboxing and karate but now focussed on karate." Since the sport was included in the Olympics, the numbers have tripled. "The number of competitors is becoming a lot bigger. There normally would be 50 at an event, now there are up to 140, so you would have 7 or 8 fights in a day. It's tough but that's what I want to be closer to a medal."

Caradh has many competitions in the pipeline this year. "Copenhagen in two weeks is the first international of the year, then in February it's the Spain premier, the highest ranking outside the Worlds, Austria is in March and then the Euros are in Serbia in May. The back end of the year is even more packed,"she said. "The Olympic rankings begin in July with every point being considered for an Olympics spot. I'll have to finish top 2 in the World ranking in my weight category, the ranking closes in April 2020 with a good few more qualifying tournaments after that." With all the travelling, finance too is vital. "The next thing I'll be looking at is fundraising. I'm lucky to get a small bit of sponsorship. There will be a lot of travelling to Asia and America, where it's easier to pick up points than in Europe, I've looked at ten competitions this year. I'm thinking of hosting an event, so targetting local sponsors will be the plan."

Caradh regularly gets home to Sligo and say her dad is big into sport and her older sister was also a kickboxer. "2018 is going to be a big year for me, targeting the Euros and the Worlds. No one has ever medalled for Ireland at World Seniors level, it would be a huge honour for me. There is no funding from Sport Ireland, they haven't really identified karate even though it's in the Olympics. I'm really looking forward to the year," Caradh said.

Sligo Champion