Tuesday 30 May 2017

Winter Olympics: Shannon heads Irish cast of thrill-seekers

Irish Winter Olympic hopefuls Claire Bergin, Shane O'Connor, Pat Shannon and Aoife Hoey
Irish Winter Olympic hopefuls Claire Bergin, Shane O'Connor, Pat Shannon and Aoife Hoey
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

SOMEONE once quipped that they couldn't be bothered watching the Winter Olympics, considering it featured an event at which your granny could win gold while doing the housekeeping.

Yes, over the next 16 days, the hyper-competitive sweeping brushes will be out in force again for far too much of that snore-inducing slow-motion darts-on-ice that is officially termed 'curling'.

There are no curlers among Ireland's team of seven qualifiers in Vancouver, but the most extraordinary Irish participant is not competing at all.

He's John Furlong, a Tipperary native who went to school in St Vincent's, Glasnevin, where he played GAA and basketball, and whose dad was governor of Mountjoy. Furlong emigrated to Canada over 30 years ago and ended up as chief executive for these Olympics, heading up a $2bn operation that culminates in tonight's opening ceremony at 2am Irish time.

Furlong has not been helped by the fact that, despite the current 'Snowmageddon' in Washington, British Columbia has been having its warmest winter in years and they've been forced to ferry in truckloads of snow to beef up the famous slopes of Whistler Mountain, although a blizzard yesterday finally ended the local snow drought.

Beleaguered

Anyone trying to keep up with the progress of the Irish contingent, including our beleaguered first women's bobsleigh qualifiers, won't be helped by the time difference.

Ireland is eight hours ahead of Vancouver, which means some late nights ahead for viewers.

But it will still be impossible to resist the appeal of 100mph skiers, ski-jumpers, snowboarders and sledders throwing themselves down snow-covered mountains, not to mention all the skating events, and brave souls like Campile's Pat Shannon launching themselves, face-front, down tracks at 80mph in the skeleton event.

New to this year's Games is ski-cross. When boardercross was introduced at the 2006 Winter Olympics, this knockout race between four snowboarders around a track of jumps and corners was likened to wacky races.

It's a fantastically entertaining combination of skill, jumps, dirty tricks and filthy elbows and rarely ends without a few casualties.

Having watched snowboarders having so much craic, skiers inevitably followed suit and now ski-cross has been added to the Olympic programme and starts on February 21. Don't miss it, not least because it's about a gazillion times more entertaining than curling.

Irish Independent

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