Welcome to the final piece for my Olympic Experience in Rio 2016. I hope you have enjoyed my experiences and in some way got a flavour about what the Olympics are all about.
They do say that times flies when you are enjoying yourself and before I knew it. I had a week of my holidays over plus the Track and Field programme was in full swing. After the excitement of the men’s and women’s 100 metres, the women’s and men’s 10K. By the Wednesday we were all into the routine of heading to the stadium, getting tickets checked and finding our seats. An interesting addition to these Games by the Olympic Organising committee was as follows.
- Samba dancers (Well it is Rio)
- Spectator cam: where the Competition cameras would focus on spectators and they would show you in a silhouette of a set of bongos, which you would pretend to play. This did create a bit of entertainment prior to the start of the evening session.
Certainly, over the second week, one could feel that the Brazilian people were starting to get into the swing of the Athletics programme. Possibly brought on by their home athlete winning the men’s pole vault against the gallant Frenchman. However, the booing and intimidation experienced on the Frenchman was something which we do not want come into our sport. On the Irish team, we had several highlights with fine performances among others by Mark English, Ciara Mageean and the girls in the 3K Steeplechase. Oh, I forget to mention Thomas Barr. It was clear from the first round that Thomas meant business and he finished 2nd in his heat and with each round got better and better. In the final he finished an excellent fourth in a very high calibre field and once again lowered the Irish record. He was truly in control and will no doubt improve over the coming years. I was on the finishing straight as Thomas ran for home and the bronze medal was fractions away from him what an Olympics he had.
When I started to make enquiries about Rio last year, I was determined to see not just sport but also some sights. One of the sights I wanted to see was Christ the Redeemer Statute. To see Christ, the Redeemer which is perched above the city of Rio de Janerio. You need to travel to the south of the city and then take a train which include a 20-minute train journey literally at about 60-degree angle up the side of the mountain. The tour guide gave us 2 hours up and back to see the statue and the view over the whole city. About 10 Minutes into the train journey up the side of the mountain we hit cloud and so it was with great disappointment that we got to the top of the mountain and with the cloud/ fog being so thick you could see nothing. Breaks in the cloud did give glimpses of the statue but no view below unfortunately. It was surreal, here I was with possibly about 2,000 people looking up into the sky to see Christ the Redeemer. When he did appear, like the moving statues in Ballinspittle Co. Cork back in the 1980s, there was a gasp and cheer. Finally, after plenty of Ohh’s and Ahhs I gave up and bought a couple of postcards and a quick pray in the little church at the base of the statute and I headed down to the train and back to the hotel.
On the final Saturday, I decided to catch the women’s Triathlon which was taking place at the far end of Copacabana towards Ipanema beach. This gave me a chance to see Ipanema beach and maybe spot the girl from Ipanema from the famous song. I did spot a girl but it was not the girl in the song but the women’s world marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe. I had last meet Paula in Sydney back in 2000 at the Sydney Harbour Bridge when she and Sonia were being interviewed by the BBC after the women’s 10K. Here in Rio Paula was hosting a meet and train group and was very happy to pose for pictures with those who recognised her. I headed on thinking I could cross over the rocks down too Copacabana. As I walked along the rocks a guy in a white and blue track suit asked me I was trying to get to see the Triathlon I said I was. He said let’s try this way. I copped who he was and said “Sure Johnny you have to know didn’t you win the sliver last week in the men’s race behind your brother”. There was a laugh and a shake of hands and I then congratulated Johnny Brownlee Olympic Silver medallist in the Rio Games. It really is a small word we live in. And just Like Paula, Johnny was down to earth and the shared their time that morning in Rio. A number of weeks later Johnny and his brother competed in the Triathlon and Johnny took a bit of a turn near the finish. His brother on seeing he was in some distress ran back and helped him across the line. Therefore, he put others first aside from himself. This act of kindness by sportsmen and women in a world where sport has been spoiled with money, corruption and self-indulgence. Certainly, gave me faith in sport again after the whole ticket fiasco, drug reports and bans prior and during these Olympic Games.
The ideal role model, we all have one whether it’s a family member a friend a teacher etc. In my case in sporting terms and Irish sporting terms would be Raheny Shamrock’s Dick Hooper. As a 10 year, old in 1980 I saw the first running of the Dublin City Marathon at the time sponsored by Radio 2. I watched the race on the Watermill road in Raheny and can clearly remember seeing Dick come bounding down Watermill Road heading into town on his way to winning what would be 3 wins in the Dublin City Marathon. It was an image which I admit has made me obsessed with running and following the Marathon ever since. Dick was in Rio to support Mick Clohissey whom he coaches. Dick in running terms in Ireland is a legend. His record both nationally and internationally speaks for itself. But here is Rio he was here to experience the Olympics like me and many others. On a wet Sunday morning, a small group of men from clubs Rahney Shamrocks (including Micks Dad, Uncle and brother), Clonliffe Harriers and Galway City harriers watched the men’s marathon. In Rio, we had again 3 athletes competing the first time since Barcelona 1992 when we last field a fulltime. Dick along with the Dublin City Marathon Organisers and Athletics Ireland and supporters of distance running in Ireland had decided several years ago to get Irish marathon running back on track to the heady days of the 1970’s and 1980s. When names like Hooper (Pat and Dick), Treacy, Kiernan, Nagle, Dowling, Purcell, Cusack, Mc Namara, Walsh, Kenny, Griffin, Mc Daid etc. ruled the roads. They and others had pride in their eyes that morning after much effort the need to raise the bar in Irish distance running via the Marathon Mission we had managed to field 2 strong teams in both mend and women’s. In fact, we could have sent at least 2 mote teams due to the numbers of athletes who had achieved the Olympic qualifying standard.
The course for the men’s marathon like the women was the same. However, the warm and humid weather was replaced with rain and lower temperatures. We again took our positions to see the athletes passing by our hotel 6 times. The race was won by Eluid Kipchoge of Kenya who had one the London Marathon earlier in the year. Another one of my running heroes Meb Keflezighi of the USA finished down the field. But at 41 was the oldest competitor in the field. The following day I meet Meb who was staying in the hotel beside and was happy to pose for a picture.
Finally, on Sunday evening 22nd August the Olympic flames were extinguished. What a games they were. Talk of Zika, security, no shows, the ticket controversy, the judging in the boxing etc. The performances of the O’Donovan’s, Murphy, Rob in the walk and Thomas in the Hurdles etc. Overall they were not the best Games ever, but I enjoyed them. Each one is different. We will always have the Olympics; they will be controversial but that’s why we watch and go to them. It still is the greatest show on earth. I was homeward bound and back to work within 3 days with memories sand stories that will last forever. Here’s to Tokyo 2020.
Finally: I would like to congratulate all those who competed the Dublin City Marathon on Sunday. Those who were doing their first Marathon. Aisling, Emer and Stephen. Guys well-done. Forgive if I missed any others. Personally I ran my best time in 8 years and I want to thank the Clonliffe Early birds for their help there You are all legends, Enjoy the break see you all in the coming weeks.