'Mini Olympics' gets off to a flier as Community Games take over Athlone town
Published 15/08/2016 | 02:30
Thoughts of the Rio Olympics and all its controversies were placed on hold for the weekend - at least in Athlone they were, as thousands of children got the Community Games off to a flier.
It is estimated that some 7,000 kids will be in action at the annual games over the two weekends, with more than 3,000 representing the whole country in the first weekend.
A flavour of what was on show was swimming, soccer, art, model-making, badminton, debating and singing.
As Community Games President Gerry Davenport remarked, there were a lot of kids leaving the Westmeath town on Sunday night with bags full of medals.
More will be back again next week.
Mr Davenport sees the whole occasion as their own version of the Olympics.
"It went off very, very well," he said. "With the year that's in it, we'd nearly call it our mini Olympics ... with less controversy," he quipped.
The quality on show at the Games has given rise to a belief that some of the these young stars may become household names in Irish sport in the future.
It wouldn't be the first time the Community Games would set the stage to future elite athletes and maybe even future Olympic champions.
"Some of them were outstanding - I have no doubt that we have seen some stars of the future in all sporting and cultural activities that were on show this weekend," Mr Davenport said.
"We've had people competing in the Olympics this weekend that have come through the Community Games.
"There'll be people this weekend and next weekend that will compete for the national team," he added.
With another 4,000 children getting prepared for next weekend's events - mainly on the track, Mr Davenport said that with more than 50 different sporting and cultural disciplines, it gives them the opportunity to try them out and choose which one suits them best.
"Some of them have come here and tried sports but have ended up going on to do bigger and better things in other sports," he said.
"This is the starting ground and there's also a social side to this.
"A lot of the young people here get to make new friends, these are friends that they hold for life from across the country."
This isn't done by accident, Mr Davenport explains.
The Community Games, since it first began in 1967, has tried to create that festival atmosphere.
"It's not all about the competition - we've a funfair and lots of other activities," he said. "They have a bit of fun as well."