So……the Olympics and the Irish Team.
The nature of the unchanging Olympic Schedule is that Ireland always seems to have a better second week tha first week. Halfway thru the Olympics, the story could easily have been that it would as usual be left to the Boxing Team to rescue the Games for the Irish……..but in actual fact it all turned out pretty well with five medals, four in Boxing.
Katie Taylor took Olympic Gold. John Joe Nevin took Silver and Belfast guys Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan took Bronze. Show Jumper Cian O’Connor who won (and lost) Gold in Athens picked up an impressive Bronze.
Annalise Murphy was despeartely unlucky not to take a sailing medal (fourth is a horrible place to finish) and Rob Heffernan was fourth in the 50K Walk (and ninth in the 20K Walk) and deserves a lot of credit.
So five medals from five team members. In two Sports. This equals the performance of 1956 (Melbourne) when the Games were not so big as they are today. Yet it could so easily have been seven medals from four sports.
I think the first thing that has to be said is that only one member of the Irish Olympic Team did NOT come thru a rigourous qualification system organised by their International Sports federations. The boxers went to the Games on the basis of their world rankings or having come thru regional qualifiers. And indeed the two Irish boxers who did not medal each made the last sixteen. The Eventing Team finished fifth and individual rider Aoife Clark was fifth.
The only non-qualifier was Shooter, Derek Burnett, a four time Olympian who was invited by his International Federation.
There were good performances …or potentially good performances in Judo, Badminton, Modern Penthlon, Sailing, Canoeing, Rowing and Gymnastics.
But Athletics, Swimming and Cycling……significantly headline sports….failed to deliver. I have always thought that the emphasis in Athletics and Swimming was on getting a “qualification TIME” . I have always thought that “times” were less significant than actual race results, certainly in longer events. Jerry Kiernan, the RTE Athletes pundit has stated that too many (twenty-three) athletes went to the Games…….I think he is wrong about that. If you get the time…..you deserve to go. And I think the athletes with real medal chances benefit by being part of a bigger “team”.
As always there are ongoing disputes between “Athletes” and “Governing Body”. This is a given in every Irish Sport…..people who actually compete are hostile to the men in blazers and the committe men (and women!) are hostile to the sports people they believe are disrespectful and ungrateful.
That will never be addressed.
The success of the Olympic Team lets both sides in the dispute off the hook.
Lessons will need to be learned. The Olympic Council of Ireland will expect reports from all the National Federations on performance and I suspect hard questions will be asked of Athletics, Cycling and Swimming.
There is certainly potential for Rio 2016.
I should probably mention the Coleraine rowers who brought a Silver and Bronze home from London but it is a zero sum game and I would rather just ignore them. I think I am glad that they won medals……..and even more glad that they failed to win Gold. Thats as reconcilatory as it is possible for an old guy like me to get…….the notion that a post box would be painted gold in Coleraine and Coleraine rowers on a British postage stamp is frankly too hard to stomach. Not to mention the whole British Flag hoopla and BBC reporters talking about a Team “Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. In fairness to the British Olympic movement the notion of “Northern Ireland” actually existing seems to offend them even more than it offends me.
This of course is not a “mature” attitude. But I used to be much worse. To my immense surprise, I could not resist raising a cheer for Andy Murray, Mo Farrah and Jessica Ennis on the British team. I did not warm to the British Rowers and Sailors..essentially it is a “class” thing………and I did not take to “Sir” Chris Hoy, who looks like he might be a Scottish “unionist”. So…….boooooooooooo.
Legacy? Well my thoughts are that the volunteer spirit was great……but ultimately their efforts seem exploited by people who will make a helluva lot of money out of the London Olympics. Britain at its best? Well amost certainly…..but that “Rule Britannia…Britannia Rules the Waves” sung for the benefit of the Argentinian Womens Hockey Team seems to undermine that. Part of me wants to say “typical” and part of me wants to write it off as a “one-off”.
Indeed despite the worst efforts of Clare Balding, John Inverdale, Gary Lineker and the awful Hazel Irvine who tried to ramp up the chauvinism….the more moderate wisdom of Mark Foster, John McEnroe, Denice Lewis, Michael Johnson, Sharon Davies and Ian Thorpe was keeping Chauvinism in check and allowing Patriotism to flourish. Meanwhile an older style of Olympic hero…….Tessa Sanderson, Kris Akabusi and Sally Gunnell dropped down the “expert” pecking order.
So……on to Rio. Or a “feel good” General Election?