Well the Olympics has come and gone, with nary a comment from yours truly (bar Stupidest Things last weekend). Rather than post throughout the sporting showcase, I thought I’d leave it for one large post when the festivities had ended.
Briefly, on the ceremonies: I wasn’t a fan, moreso of the opening. Random, badly choreographed, some poor musical choices. One big British in-joke. This seems to be going against the grain a bit, but I just have no time for the kind of stuff that Danny Boyle trotted out, from extended tributes to the industrial revolution to inappropriate political messages in the form of NHS glorification.
On the Olympics as a whole: Quite entertaining. There are few sports I will go out of my way to avoid, and the Olympics has none of them. Boxing kept my interest of course, but also handball, field hockey, showjumping, football, swimming, relay, judo and indoor cycling. I think I managed a look at every sport at some point, and I can’t claim to have been too bored at any time. As a sporting event, the Olympics isn’t hard to get right, and the athletes put on a hell of a show. BBC bias was plain to see all over their broadcasting, but that wa sonly a minor detriment to the overall experience.
Notable moments for me (outside Irish athletes included:) Ye Shiwen’s win in the pool, the Dutch field hockey team’s annihilation of Great Britain in the field hockey, the funeral atmosphere at Team GB football games, Shin A-lam’s wholly justified fencing sit-in, Montenegro’s women’s handball medal, Usain Bolt’s 100m meter run, Athony Josua’s disgracefully undeserved victory in the Super-Heavyweight division, Kim Jae Bum#s Judo win, Mexico’s footballing triumph over the class of Brazil, the China vs China table tennis final and Boris on his zipline.
And it was good to see Ireland bring home five medals. Katie Taylor’s victory was an event that united the country in sporting interest in a way that not even the national football team could during Euro 2012 (and boy, did she show a lot more heart than they did). She is a different kind of athlete to the ones the Irish are used to glorifying recently: female, religious, amateur, and dominating in her discipline. She was streaks ahead of all of her opponents, and only allowed the Russian finalist to get so close due to hesitation and nerves. While the chance to see amateur boxers in competition are typically few and far between, we should look forward to seeing more of Taylor in the future.
Ireland’s other boxing victories were inevitable the moment you saw them ebeter their first contest. We excel in the ring, thanks to a stable boxing tradition, plenty of interest due to past success, substantial investment and a level of expectation that athletes have risen to meet. That is not something that is likely to change, and boxing will remain our key sport in any future Olympics for the foreseeable future. While none of the male fighters were able to match Taylor’s achievement, Ireland were easily one of the most dominant nations in the ring, with boxers like Michael Conlan sure to either return in Rio or make a name for themselves professionally.
Then there is Cian O’Connor, who came within a hair’s breadth of competing for Gold or Silver, eventually settling for third. O’Connor’s has had a harsh time of it over the last eight years, thanks largely to an uneducated opinion of him that has become prevalent, one that see’s the issue of doping only in the most simple terms. O’Connor was absolved of all personal blame in the Waterford Crystal affair, but try telling that to the legions of people who declared themselves unable to celebrate his win due to his past banning. Do some reading guys, because you’re actually slandering one of Ireland’s best Olympians, the only one outside of boxing to take home a medal, for no good reason.
So what about everyone else? Other Irish Olympians – Annalise Murphy and Robert Heffernen for example – went very close to achieving medal places despite little expectation. Others, especially in the swimming pool but also canoeing and other equestrian events, fell badly off the pace and struggled to make any impact at all.
What is the appropriate level of criticism to make at those who failed to come home with the goods, or even make a reasonable to attempt to do so? I reject the assertion that our athletes should be protected under a blanket of “did us proud”. Such thinking is a comfort, but does nothing to investigate why Ireland are going wrong in certain sports, which is crucial to the evolution of our efforts in that sport. Praise in correct measure, critique in the same. There should be a reasonable limit to criticism (for example, I struggle to make critique on sports I am very unknowledgeable in, like Badminton this time around) but it should not be absent completely. How can we train better, what can we do better? Why did some of the Irish athletes fail and are they things that can be overcome?
I am very cynical when it comes to sports sometimes. I am a person with high expectations, something I make no apologies for. My kneejerk reaction to Irish failures, to disappointed athletes crying after slipping up is generally “well, you probably should have boxed better/sailed in a different direction/pushed yourself harder near the finish/etc”. I usually recognise that this criticism is not entirely fair, but that just leads to further questions, in regards whether it is worthwhile sending athletes with no reasonable expectation of success to an Olympic games.
That’s all down to work in the interim of course, but I do believe that there should be a level of realism sustained by Ireland’s Olympic organisations. If they want more medals, then they need to change things, put greater resources and more promotion towards other sports then boxing. That’s not an easy thing to do, but it is what they have to do. If they are happy with the way things are now – where taking part is, more often than not, Ireland’s highest level of achievement – then they have no need to change anything. We are a nation that, in four years time, can expect a medal haul of equal or greater numbers than we got in London. But not much greater. Happy with that?