Older, wiser, stronger.
Brendan Boyce, physically and mentally, is in a good place as he prepares for Rio.
Four years ago, he got his first taste of an Olympic Games when competing in the 50km walk in London. He finished 29th in a time of 3 hours 55 minutes and 1 second. His time was a personal best and he would later be upgraded to 26th place following the disqualification of three Russian athletes.
Fast forward four years and the Milford man is plotting a better time and a higher finish in Brazil.
Brendan and his training partner, Rob Heffernan, became the first Irish athletes to qualify for the Olympics when they achieved the qualifying standards racing in Slovakia in March of last year.
The Letterkenny AC member’s time of 3.48.56 was another personal best and knocked over six minutes off his time from London.
Training and preparation since then has all been geared towards Rio and Brendan feels he’s well placed to take another couple of minutes off that PB if the race goes to plan in Brazil.
“If you look at the times from London, to get a top 12 finish, you would have had to finish in around 3 hours 45 minutes,” he said.
“My PB is now down to 3.48 which I achieved almost a year and a half ago now. I feel I’m capable of walking faster than that and therefore, capable of a top 12 finish which would be fantastic.
“Taking almost seven minutes off my time in Slovakia was brilliant. To take a minute off your time is huge. But by taking seven minutes off, all of a sudden, you’re close to the top end of the scale.”
So is there going to be less pressure on the Donegal man at the 2016 Olympics, given that he has the experience of a previous Olympics behind him?
“It probably is in a way,” he said. “I think back in London, all I was hoping for was to go as well as I could and achieve a personal best. Thankfully it worked out well for me.
“This time, I’m not just after a fast time, I’m after a top ten or top 12 finish. I know that I have it in me.
“But yeh, at least now, the fact that I have already competed in the Olympics should probably help me a fair bit. When you’re preparing for your first ever Olympic Games, there’s nothing like it. Hopefully I can take the experience of London and put it to my advantage when Rio comes around.”
Just to underline that point, Brendan has decided not to travel to Rio until as late as possible.. When all eyes will be on the famous Maracanã Stadium in Rio for the opening ceremony on Friday, August 5th, Brendan will watch from his Cork base. His race is not scheduled until a fortnight later on August 19th and he plans to travel to Rio just over a week before that on the 11th.
His preparations for the Games saw him take part in his last competitive meet at the end of June when he recorded 42.25.17 for the 10k walk at the National Track and Field Championships in Dublin.
It was in his own words, a solid performance. He then headed to Spain for five weeks of high altitude training along with his fellow Irish team members, Alex Wright and Rob Heffernan as preparations for Rio moved up a gear. On his return to Ireland, his training programme saw him walking over 160kms per week.
His parents, Margaret and Mandy, were in Santry in Dublin for the National Championships and they were in Rome back in May to see their son put in an excellent performance at the World Cup event. His time in the 20k walk was 1.24.34, his second fastest for the distance and the first time he’d finished ahead of Heffernan.
His only blip in recent times came last year when at the 50k walk at the World Championships in Beijing, he was disqualified at the 35km mark.
But those are the disappointments race walkers have to deal with and Brendan quickly refocused his efforts towards Rio and 12 months on, he’s now looking forward to doing his family, his county and his country proud on the biggest stage of them all.
His parents won’t make it to Rio, but there will be family support in the form of his brother Brian. His many friends and supporters back home will be backing Boyce all the way and the Irish athlete said that support means an awful lot.
“Unfortunately, I don’t get home as much as I would like but I’m in touch with home all the time,” he said.
“But these days, even though you are away, it’s easier to keep in touch with social media which is great.
“Once again, there will be other Donegal competitors taking part which is brilliant as well. There was a time when we never really had anybody competing at the Olympics, but that seems to have come full circle now and it’s more common for the county to have someone there.
“It shows the work and the progress that’s going on at underage level across a wide range of sports.
“It makes all that effort and hard work worthwhile.”