While circumstances have, naturally, dictated a large part of life’s path for me, it’s still a source of great pride and satisfaction that many long held dreams and ambitions have been achieved. Some haven’t, and most likely never will be, but that’s a story for a different day.
As I told my niece a good few years ago, the most important thing to remember is to never give up on your dreams. That’s why it’s been refreshing to see the highly successful track cycling Olympian Victoria Pendleton chase her ambition to get into horse racing and, ultimately, ride in the Foxhunters Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Now, it’s been a move that hasn’t met with universal approval, to put it mildly. But, from where I’m sitting, if the lady herself wanted to commit the necessary effort and dedication, the trainers facilitating her – particularly Paul Nicholls – and the owner of Pacha Du Polder (her intended mount) Andy Stewart are ok with it, what’s the problem?
The quest to get the former cyclist to Prestbury Park actually intertwines nicely with another major sports story which – in some ways at least – hasn’t been getting half as much coverage. Certainly not as much as it warranted anyway. For, what Pendleton’s pursuit also does is highlight the folly of recently released Olympic proposals pertaining to pugilism.
There’s something almost romantic about the Pendleton story. Somebody, an amateur, starting from scratch and aiming at the biggest event a given sport has to offer. Despite the many clouds which, wholly justifiably, have engulfed the Olympic Games in recent times, one of the events endearing redeeming features has always been the amateur boxing.
From an Irish perspective, that might seem an obvious stance to assume given that some of this country’s greatest achievements relating to the multi-sport event have centred on affairs of the ring. Such may again turn out to be the case owing to the undoubted talents of competitors such as Katie Taylor and Mick Conlan and Michael O’Reilly, to name but three.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that there could be local contributions to Ireland’s medal prospects. Hope would have been that it could have been two pronged from a local perspective but after showjumper Cian O’Connor was scandalously wronged at an event some months back and with the matter so far not being resolved it seems unlikely that he – or any Irish in the said discipline – will make it.
Thus, when it comes to Rio in midsummer, much of the attention from a Meath perspective will focus on Skryne’s Natalya Coyle. I’d openly admit to not being too au fait with her area of expertise – Modern Pentathlon – but in recent times it’s been clear that she has made great strides in the event (having already competed at London 2012) and surely heads to South America as a genuine medal hope.
Many of our boxers will still fit into that bracket too. However, here’s the epicentre of what brought this column about. With so much of top level sport now none the better for external influences, there’s something reassuring about somebody like Pendleton being on the same stage as professional jockeys. Or boxers flying the flag for amateurism at the Olympics.
Except, now, some bright spark has come up with the asinine idea of letting professional pugilists partake therein. Does that not extract any last semblance of the Games being as they used to be, and in my view, should be? Does it not also provoke cause for fear of even more storms enveloping the event?
The point will, doubtless, be made by some that professional golfers will now also adorn the Olympic stage. Leaving aside the fact that the latter may also represent a decent Irish medal chance regardless of whom the team comprises of, whether it’s right that they’re there at all is a debate for another time.
In my view, they are deserving participants. Much more so than some of those who may now end up centre stage in Brazil. You don’t need to be a boxing aficionado to know that at least some of the professional element thereof has a murky underbelly. One which the addition of to the Olympic scene would besmirch the whole event.
One can’t help wondering were these moves instigated with the interests of certain competing nations in mind. For some, amassing the biggest medal haul, and seemingly at all costs, is all that matters. That’s not what the Olympics should be about.