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Clonliffe expedition strikes silver

So here we all were. In Dublin Airport at the ungodly hour of 4.30 a.m. on a dark and slightly nippy March morning, checking in for our flight to Munich, en-route to the World Masters Championships in Linz.

The trip out was an adventure in itself. After an uneventful flight to Munich, we then had to catch three separate trains to Linz, (via Salzburg and Munich Central). The entire countryside in southern Germany was covered in snow, and looked like a scene from a tourism brochure. A very tired party eventually arrived in Linz station around 7 p.m. Getting off the train, two things were immediately apparent. It was f-f-f-freezing! And the snow and ice were a bit of a challenge to get around, with a 40 kg rucksack on your back.

Being Irish, of course we did not have the slightest clue where our hotel was located. When we got on the tram for Linz we asked the passengers around us for directions to the hotel. Being reasonable, intelligent people, the Austrians replied Do you have the address. It turned out that our Accomodation Co-ordinator had made the booking on the internet and had not taken note of the address…….

We then thought that we had got lucky when we asked one very robust Austrian frau for directions and she replied in very broken English I go there. I show you.

Wahay! Problem solved!

We left the tram and followed this helpful lady through darkened, snow-covered streets. After a while I noticed that we were getting further and further from civilisation and the primeval oak forest was closing in around us. Our helpful guide was looking very unsure of her bearings….It was a very Hansel and Gretelmoment. In the distance you could hear a wolf howling. I imagine he was simply letting his friends know there was fresh meat coming their way…. Somebody then asked our guide if she was actually from Linz. She replied No. I from Budapest. I shot putter.

At that point our Accomodation Co-ordinator had the bright idea of ringing the hotel to get directions. Based on this more reliable source of advice, we then made a 180 degree about-face, abandoning our Hungarian shot-putter to her fate. We trekked through the snow back the way we had come. On eventually arriving at the hotel we were greeted by Sean Cooney, a friend & co-competitor of Pat Bonass. Pat explained to Sean in exasperated tones that he had never seen such a “feckin’flock of clueless sheep, each following the other, without the slightest clue where they were, or where they were going”. Sean replied that we were lucky our trip only took us 15 hours. His own took 20 hours and he arrived at 4 a.m. in the morning. I naively asked him who was the Good Shepherd who arranged his trip? Baa-baa Bonass was the sheepish reply……

The following day was spent in the fabulous indoor athletics stadium in Linz watching some incredible masters athletics. We saw Tom O’Connor (45+) and Frank Reilly (60+) both take the gold medal with great style in their respective 3,000 metre races. That put the Irish camp into very fine spirits heading into the cross-country events on St Patrick’s Day.

The following morning we arrived at the park where the cross-country was to be staged. It was covered in 4 inches of snow. Some of you will recall that at our last club AGM Padraig Keane persuaded Clonliffe to put a motion to the AAI requesting that cross-country running be introduced as a winter Olympic sport. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon……My mother was right. She always said Be careful what you wish for: You might actually get it.

The snow was heavily frosted so it was more ice than snow – a bit like running on deep soft sand. Just to keep us on our toes (literally) the organisers had arranged a tractor to rotovate the surface after every race. Maybe we should ask the Dublin County Board to consider this innovation for the Dublin cross-countries? One competitor arrived on skis but the marshals soon put a stop to his gallop. Or rather they made him gallop without skis, just like the rest of us.

First out of the traps were the over-60 men. The Irish team consisted of Frank Reilly, Pat Bonass and Michael Bowler. The running was strange to watch, with everyone slipping and sliding their way around the 5 mile course, at what was a considerably slower pace than normal cross-country. It was obvious from an early stage that Frank was going to win the gold medal and he did so by a whopping minute and a half. Pat Bonass was 9th and Michael Bowler was 15th, giving them the team silver medal. Believe it or not, in a combined time of 1 hour 45 minutes they missed the gold medal by a mere 0.27 of a second…… That’s a little more than the width of this full stop.

It was then my turn. I was running with Tom O’Connor, Tony O’Halloran and Michael O’Shea, with three out of the four runners to score. Tom and Tony, being pedigree greyhounds (huskies?) had no problem sticking with the leading group of a dozen runners. It was clear from the first half mile that Michael and I were fighting it out to be the third scorer. Being mere mortals we found the going very tough and could not hold on to the leading bunch. The snow/ice was very uneven and it was very difficult to get any purchase on it. If you want to try out this experience, then I suggest you go to Portrane beach on a dry day and go for a five mile run in the soft sand. If you find the experience pleasurable you can then stop off at St Ita’s on the way back and have yourself measured for a strait jacket.

At the end of the first lap I was already feeling seriously knackered. Fortunately everybody around me was in a similar state and for the remaining two laps we struggled around like a procession of ducks out on a frozen pond. I managed to finish in 16th, two places ahead of Michael. Meanwhile, up at the head of affairs, Tom and Tony had broken away from the bunch on the final lap to finish 1st and 2nd respectively. Again we got the team silver. The Spanish had finished in 3rd, 4th and 5th and won the gold by a good margin. For my money the performance of the day was by Frank Reilly in the over 60s race. He is 15 years older than me yet finished 30 seconds quicker over the same course. Some of us are mere carthorses whereas others are thoroughbreds…

The following day this carthorse was ready for the knackers yard. I didn’t know it at the time but I was coming down with flu. Fortunately I could take the day off and headed in to Salzberg for sightseeing. It is a beautiful, compact city. It is also surrounded by alpine peaks and is a great destination for either a skiing or a sightseeing holiday. We got to the Irish pub that evening and watched the rugby match, surrounded by the British team who travelled in numbers. You can imagine what it is like to beat the Brits at cross-country and at rugby in Twickenham, all on a Paddy’s weekend. Needless to say we tried not to look too smug……

On the Sunday, athletics intervened again and I went into the city centre to watch the half marathon. I was supposed to be competing but was feeling very iffy and didnt even think about running in it. The sun had come out and the streets were clear of snow, so it was a very conventional race compared with the cross-country. Ronan Mulveny, ran a very respectable time of 79mins 58, to finish in 35th. The Irish over 50s team (Pat O’Shea, Tom Murphy & Sammy Mc Ananey) won the team gold, with Pat O’Shea from Kerry also taking the individual silver medal.

The half marathon was followed by the 10k walk. So we went to the pub at that juncture. Apparently from 1912 until 1948 there was an Olympic Art Competition at every Olympics, with gold, silver and bronze medals being awarded. Each nation nominated 1 competitor who had to produce a work of art. But it was found that the art competition was interfering with the attendance levels at the walk, as most spectators preferred to watch paint dry…….. Then in 1952 the Olympics transferred to Finland and for organisational reasons the Olympic Committee decided to drop the Olympic Art competition. To this day there are many who say they dropped the wrong event.

Rugby by Jean Jacoby – the only artist to win two Olympic gold medals for art. (picture to follow)

Overall, the Masters event was amazing for the level of competition and quality of the fields. There were 3,500 competitors from 135 countries. The 27 Irish competitors came 9th in the medal table. There are obviously many other stories to tell. Have you ever watched a 75 year old man run 400 metres in 70 seconds? Well I have. For this and all other results of the World Masters Championships see www.linz2006.com

Based on this touring experience, my top tips for anybody heading for Austria are:

The people are very helpful and courteous.

It is a lot cheaper than here.

The food is quite fatty and salty – they have the highest level of cardiac arrest in the world, and you want to avoid that if you can. They have a chain of seafood restaurants called NORDSEE which are quite good, and healthy. If all else fails, you cant miss the Mc Donalds in Linz. It is in Burger St!

Don’t ask directions from the Hungarian shot-putters. They stand at every cross-roads looking confused, just like the Irish tourists.

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