Sean,…..this is almost totally a review of the Rio Olympics which I started to watch with some scepticism but quickly became totally engrossed in, with all its triumph and disasters. A memorable festival of sports competition. T
1. Boyle Senior team play Clann na Gael in the O’Rourke Cup on Saturday next (not Sunday) at 6.30 in Boyle. The team had a fine win over a fancied Roscommon Gaels on Sunday last in Elphin. They play Clann also, in their last group championship game which adds significance as to how they approach Saturday’s league game. League wins are vital too as it is very important that the team stay in the top division of the league which is in danger due to results to date.
2. The all-Ireland Fleadh is on in Ennis this week-end and if you cannot get there it gets great coverage on T.V courtesy of Fleadh T.V. on T. G. 4 each evening from 8.30 to 11.30 which I recommend.
3. Another programme which I recommend to you if it gets repeated somewhere –since it was shown on Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday on RTE 1each night at 11.20. The programme title is Exodus: Our Journey Into Europe. It relates the trials and risks endured by people from the Middle East to reach the safety –as they see it- of Europe. It was also repeated on BBC so the prospect of seeing a further repeat is limited.
The Drama of the Olympics
On Sunday August 7th Paul Kimmage wrote a column in the Sunday Independent headed ‘You can’t be angry if you don’t care’. It related to the suspension of boxer Michael O’Reilly from the games due to being tested positive for taking a banned substance. I kinda subscribed to that at the time but since then I have watched a good deal of coverage of the main events of the games and my view has changed. It has been a feast of drama, including phenomenal performances, celebration, heartache and heartbreak. The full range of human endeavour, its strengths, weaknesses and emotions.
Sports Highlights and Lowlights
For Ireland there have been a number of highlights. The achievement of Annalise Murphy in getting a silver medal in sailing after her great disappointment at coming 4th at the London Olympics was great to see. However the O’Donovan brothers in rowing will go down as ‘the’ highlight of these Games for Ireland. Their almost exaggerated Irishness obviously disguises a competitive steel which led to their stellar performance in their silver- winning final. They were in no rush back home to indulge themselves in the collective euphoria of their supporters there. There was a very creditable showing by a diver called Oliver Dingley who qualified for Ireland by virtue of his ancestry. Indeed this course so long a feature of Irish soccer is set to expand. There is also an Irish badminton player Scott Evans doing well as I write. A golfer I had never heard of Seamus Power from Waterford based in the U.S. came in 15th after challenging for a higher place earlier.
On Tuesday night I watched with great surprise and delight as another Waterford man, a runner I had never heard of, Thomas Barr, qualified for the finals of the 400m hurdles.
It’s the first time since 1932 that Ireland have had a finalist in the 400m hurdles when Bob Tisdale won gold, while Barr becomes the first Irishman in an Olympic track final since Alistair Cragg (5000m) in 2004.
The feat is all the more remarkable given that Barr’s season has been heavily disrupted by injury problems, with few tipping the Irish athlete to earn a final spot.
Watching on in the RTÉ studio, Irish former sprint hurdles athlete Derval O’Rourke hailed the achievement as “one of the greatest Irish performances”. Barr goes into Thursday’s final with every chance of a medal.
Speaking after tonight’s (Tuesday’s) race, Barr expressed delight at the achievement in a typical buoyant interview similar to the O’Donovans.
“I’m astonished. After all the mishaps over the last year with injuries, to win a semi-final and get a national record is incredible,” he said.
“I didn’t think I could run half a second faster than yesterday.
“I’ve put a target on my back for the final. When is it? I haven’t even looked.”
In the final which I viewed a few hours ago Thomas performed heroically to finish fourth by a whisker. His post-run interview again demonstrated the quality and fun character of him. While I hadn’t heard of him until this week we will be hearing plenty about him in the coming years.
While these are the feel good events I saw, the story in boxing was so much different.
The Irish boxing team which set out with such high hopes have seen their hopes dashed in a totally comprehensive way. There had been more than hopes that they would exceed the results from the London Olympics with Taylor, Conlan, Barnes, Warde and O’Reilly being the five real medal expectations and hopes for others. It all started badly with O’Reilly being barred because of a failed drug test. Then it was Paddy Barnes who at the end of the first round showed worrying signs and was defeated. It was suggested that he had long-term issues making the weight so the question was; why did he not move up a weight? Warde also failed fighting poorly. And so it went. This week came our two bankers. Katie Taylor was pretty close but she was shadow of the confident, aggressive boxer of the past. Michael Conlan by all accounts was denied a win by poor judging, especially their assessment of the first round. While it might have been poor judging it is stretching it to say it was a conspiracy. So the Irish team of 8 who left with such expectation return empty-handed. Now the questions will be asked as to where did it all goo so wrong? It will take some re-building to see Irish boxing recover to any great extent for some time as its reputation and confidence has crashed.
A fundamental question involves the departure of influential coach Billy Walshe earlier this year and the trauma that has caused to the team. Another curious development is the non-appearance of Katie Taylor’s dad Pete from her corner of late when he had been omni-present. This I presume was part of what she referred to as very difficult year for her. Pete is reported to be out of the country on holidays in Europe!
Pat Hickey and Tickets Issue
If things In the ring were not bad enough things got worse in an unsavoury way. As I write the news is emerging that the President of the Irish Olympic Council, Pat Hickey, has been arrested in connection with ticket sale issues that emerged on August 5th. This is going to be a huge Olympic political story. Shane Ross, Minister for Sport eventually returned from holiday and subsequently went to Rio to meet Mister Hickey looking to have an independent member on the OCI’s investigation into the facts of the origin and path of the 700 hundred plus tickets at the centre of the story. Mister Hickey would not accept any intervention at the behest of the Minister Ross to his disappointment. Indeed Minister Ross too has lost some shine in his interaction with the dilemma. Then the story took a dramatic new turn on Wednesday with the arrest of Pat Hickey and the story now moving centre stage as a major news story.
It again illustrates the governance of national and international sporting and non-government organisations based in large part on amateur foundations and involvement but at the top of the pyramid on high degree of professionalism. This is fine up to a point, but where huge amounts of money, patronage, lobby groups, favours given for favours received, the sharp politics of it all, come into the mix, the capacity for corruption to blossom is manifold. The best recent example has been seen in the FIFA –the International Football federation- where the activities of Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini resulted in their suspensions.
Mister Hickey and the OCI and all associated with the ticket issue deny wrongdoing, though things do not look too healthy for them, so it will be interesting to follow the story over the coming weeks.
Team GB and their major successes
The GB team have had incredible success and continue to do so. Since I watched a good deal of the international events on BBC, with the very impressive analyst Michael Johnson former U.S. sprinting great, I saw a number of these wins. Amongst their successes were stand out events such as the win by golfer Justin Rose in a down-to- the -wire contest with Henrik Stenson. I imagine some of the golfers who declined to travel because of the Zika scare (of which we have nothing during the games) will be having twinges of regret.
Andy Murray defended his singles tennis and it was not easy in a victory over an Argentinian opponent.
The GB rowing men’s rowing team powered home with the ladies team coming second. They also had fine first-time wins in gymnastics.
It was in velodrome cycling that they really dominated and collected more medals than all the opposing countries combined. The team has won six gold and four silver with all members of the 14 member team have won medals. This leap from the World Championships results has led to muted questions as to how they have come to be so dominant at recent Olympics in this sport. The suggestion being that if it were China or Russia then the questions would ring loud and clear. However they insist that their preparations, major lottery funding, and targeting of the Olympics and all that goes with them is the reason.
On the international stage two phenomenal performers have stood out; Michael Phelps of the U.S. in swimming and Usain Bolt in sprint racing from Jamaica. Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold, spanning over four Olympic Games. He has actually competed at five Olympics; however, he did not win a medal at his first Games in Sydney, Australia.
Usain Bolt has become the king of 200m and 100m sprinting and in Rio is going for the triple-triple i.e. the 100m, 200m and the 4 X 100m which he has done at Beijing and London Olympics and is closing in on repeating in Rio with only the relay to come. Bolt is the superstar and some of the antics such as posing for a camera while in full flight and interacting with Andre de Grasse as they came home in the 200m heat and celebratory showmanship has been the centrepiece of this festival of sport.
What else ... the Basketball game between the ‘Dream Team’ no. x against the Australian ‘boomers’ ... the RTE basketball commentator with his ‘downtown’ shots ... the two sisters who represented GB in the 100 m hurdles ... the Brazilian pole vaulter, Tiago da Silva, winning the host country’s only gold as the partisan crowd booed his French rival ... the South African winner of gold medal in the 400m, Wayde van Niekerk, running the fastest single lap in history with a to win the Olympic 400 meters gold whose coach is 74 year Anna Botha ... the success of Bahrain in winning gold with Ruth Jebet of Kenya and the spread of this across the Middle East ... plenty of quiz questions there for December!
So returning to Paul Kimmage, I hope you, a sportsman, haven’t denied yourself this, still the greatest show in the world with Usain ‘lighting’ Bolt as the ringmaster. The Olympics despite all the possible contamination was a triumph and I really enjoyed it ... and on this Friday morning 19th August, it ain't over just yet.