By Brendan Boylan,
In some places, Olympic scepticism is as trendy as the latest new fangled mobile phone. Granted, in some sports, it’s hard to feel that things aren’t quite as natural as was intended when Hercules got the ball rolling. Tarring everything with the same suspicion bristled brush isn’t right though. Even allowing for a sour feeling that the event has become over commercialised, any sports fan should be salivating as two weeks of top class sporting action continues.
My earliest recollection of the Games is actually the one which probably sparked the initial cynicism – Ben Johnson’s now infamous win in Seoul in 1988. Aside from that, the greatest memories abide from Basketball – due to the many incarnations of the ‘Dream Team’ – and Boxing. The latter probably due to the fact that it was one of the few codes in which Ireland fairly regularly garnered success.
Vividly is it recalled being on holidays in Tralee around the time Michael Carruth and Wayne McCullough were at their zenith. Then there were the exploits of others like Francie Barrett, Kenny Egan and the late, great Darren Sutherland, to name but a few. Surely Ireland’s greatest ever pugilist – Katie Taylor – represents our best chance of being represented on a podium over the week and a bit of the Olympiad that remains.
It was only right and fitting, then, that the exceptional, inspirational Bray lady bore the tricolour during the opening ceremony. The event was an amazing spectacle in London on July 27th. If there was one down side to it, though, it was the presence of Mohammad Ali.
That might seem like a bizarre statement considering who it’s about. Ali was one of the greatest and is still one of the most recognisable sports stars on the planet. But having him there just seemed wrong and was frankly upsetting to watch. His life has been so debilitated by illness that during the opening ceremony it appeared Ali didn’t know where he was or what was going on around him. Maintain and promote the Olympic tradition by all means – but not at the cost of dignity.
One of the great bonuses about the Olympics, of course, is being able to take in action in sports that wouldn’t normally be seen. Things like Archery, Badminton, Table Tennis and others. A debate has long raged in my mind – should we only send competitors in sports we have a genuine chance of being successful in or let the best of what we have in everything take their chance?
The verdict goes to the latter scenario – marginally mind you – because surely everybody deserves to compete at the highest level possible if they feel they are up to it. While there will undoubtedly be disappointments for some Irish athletes in London, qualifying to and competing there at all is a massive achievement in itself.
Then there’s the fact that nothing is impossible. Look at the Swimming for instance. Michael Phelps has been the best swimmer in the world for some time. At the last Olympics, he bagged an astonishing eight golds. Yet, this time around, he just scraped through his heat in the first of the many events he competes in, he was left drinking the backsplash of team mate Ryan Lochte, finishing outside the medals therein.
Just to prove there is a bit of romance left in sport, though, it was the ‘Baltimore Bullet’ who swam the winning leg in the 4x200m relay, guaranteeing himself a 19th Olympic medal (and has since made it 20) and confirmation of his status are the most decorated Olympian ever. The last day of July was just that kind of day however – the other unique achievement being that of Zara Philips (part of the Great Britain Eventing team) was presented with her medal by her mother, Princess Anne!
While your columnist would admit to enjoying watching the Sailing and Canoeing events (and the exploits of Ian Wiley in particular in the latter) not a whole lot about the finer points of either is known. Sailing knowledge in this seat might be about to increase due to the outstanding performance of Annalise Murphy in the Laser Radial class.
Here’s another interesting question – who or what criteria decides what sports are admitted to the Olympics and what aren’t? During the early part of events in London, the World Matchplay Championship in Darts were taking place in Blackpool. Now there’s a sport that seems to be surging in popularity.
Between the Grand Prix and the leg of the Premier League that was staged in Dublin, nearly 20,000 attended. The fact that Fermanagh’s Brendan Dolan is one of the rising stars in the game is of course a catalyst for more interest and were darts ever to make it onto the Olympic roster (I’ll never say never!) he would seem sure to at least push for a medal!
Hopefully our representatives in these games will bring home some medals. The addition of Golf to the next edition should further increase our competitiveness. One of the biggest problems might be trying to decide who represents Ireland when you consider that we’d have the likes of Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Michael Hoey to pick from!
And there are a few other sports which, if we competed in them, we would seem well placed to do well in them. For one thing, it seems rather strange that we don’t field a team in the Football. Clay Shooting is another area in which we could do extremely well, I think. Undoubtedly there are many Irish sporting success stories to come, in what remains of these games and the future as well. For now though, let’s enjoy the remain der of this festival of sport!