Caradh O’Donovan in action in 2016

FOR Caradh O’Donovan, 2018 really is a new sporting start. The former world champion kickboxer has given up her first sporting love, and will be chasing a new dream: qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where she hopes to medal.
Along the way, she’s hoping to inspire children to start on a sporting journey that the Terenure woman began 21 years ago, at the age of 12.
The sporting change is driven, in part, by the presence of karate and not kickboxing at the Olympics, but also by O’Donovan’s desire to recalibrate.
She says she’s “losing interest” in kickboxing, and has “taken things as far as I can go”.
“It’s the biggest decision I’ve made, but I’ve now gone 100 percent over to karate,” she explained. “The first few months were difficult, learning the differing approach and rules, and stuff, but now I’m fully focused on the karate only and it’s become a passion. I’m confident I’ll win my first medals soon.”
O’Donovan has a long road ahead of her, one that begins in Copenhagen this weekend, as she prepares for the qualifiers that could take her to Tokyo. Qualifying is a tough task: she’ll need to reach the top two in the world in her weight category (on average) across qualifying tournaments between July 2018 and April 2020 to guarantee a trip to Tokyo.
Failing that, there’s the qualifying tournament right before the Japanese Olympics. She will also need to be the top ranked Irish fighter, as only one can travel from each nation.
“It’s flat out for the Olympics now,” she explains. “There are two European Championships and a World Championship to think about between now and Tokyo, as well as numerous qualifying tournaments all over the world. It’s an expensive proposition when you have relatively little financial backing.”
On top of the physical challenges of training and fighting, O’Donovan also competes with crohn’s disease, a debilitating illness that can be somewhat managed through diet, but could strike hard at any (and potentially unfortunate) times.
O’Donovan will be taking her experiences to a couple of dozen Dublin schools in the coming year, starting with St Malachy’s National School in Dublin 11, as she takes part in ‘Sports for Schools’ and talks to primary school students about her experiences.
The kids will train with a “sportivator” from the programme, before O’Donovan talks about her sporting experiences. “I’m hoping to inspire a few girls,” she tells us. “I remember meeting male sports stars when I was young, but not many female ones, and I couldn’t really imagine ‘growing up to be’ the men.
“Things are definitely getting better, but this program is newly launching in Ireland and should have an impact. I hope through talks and demonstrations that I can help.”