Sunday 4 December 2016

Constant negativity eclipses what Games are meant to be

Catherina McKiernan

Published 22/08/2016 | 02:30

'Personally I found it a strange Olympics, especially with the stadium only being half-full. It should be packed and the atmosphere should be overwhelming.' Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.
'Personally I found it a strange Olympics, especially with the stadium only being half-full. It should be packed and the atmosphere should be overwhelming.' Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

What amazed me about yesterday's men's Olympic marathon was that so many Africans dropped out.

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I wasn't surprised that Galen Rupp won bronze because he is obviously good, he medalled on the track at the last Olympics and he'd already been fifth in the 10,000m in Rio.

The British lad - Callum Hawkins - was top 10 in this year's London marathon so there was himself, two Americans and a Canadian all in the top 10 which was surprising and actually a positive thing for Irish athletes to see.

But I was really surprised to see Alemu Bekele drop out. It looked like he had a foot problem because he stopped two or three times to tie his laces.

He's a professional athlete so you presume he's going to do something to fix them properly and make sure they weren't going to keep opening.

I'm only guessing here but, it looked more likely that his foot was sore, that he had an injury and was loosening the laces to take the pressure off it, and that's likely to have been what made him pull out before the 30km mark.

Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan who won it, just looked beautiful, his style is perfect. He ran the last eight miles at 4:40-mile pace but everything looked so effortless.

Paul Pollock finished 32nd in 2:16, which is only a minute outside his personal best. He had a point to prove after that selection controversy here and he certainly proved that he was the right one to send and can be happy.

The other two Irish men, Seaward (64th) and Clohissey (103rd) won't be happy, but they were both sick out there. That's very unfortunate but that's the problem with the Olympics, it only comes around every four years and it's difficult to be right on the day.

I know Mick Clohisey, and know all the preparation he put into it, going over and back to Portugal to train.

He must be very frustrated not to be able to get the most out of himself but in fairness both of them still finished. Mick will probably be a bit embarrassed at running 2:26, though.

That's the nature of marathon running. The American Meb Keflezighi, who was right behind Pollock, is a former medallist and was fourth in London 2012 but he collapsed right before the finish line. He actually did a few press-ups trying to get his legs working again to get over it.

I nearly didn't want my daughter Deirbhile (14) to watch it. The marathon is just gruesome at times.

One of the finishers had to run in sideways because his legs had seized up, and there was an Iranian who blew up badly after going out in the lead group. He, literally, crawled across the finish line.

I was surprised so many struggled because the conditions seemed good and the times were relatively slow. You'd wonder why so many were in such a bad state at the end because these are all finely tuned, very fit athletes.

Overcooked

My answer is that a lot of them probably overcooked it in the build-up. They over-trained and were just exhausted. That's what the Olympics can do to you.

People wonder about the credibility of athletics after all the recent scandals and we have to be positive and think that it's moving in the right direction.

The authorities have to start somewhere and the IAAF banned the Russians, plus there's going to be lots of athletes tested retrospectively, so there is a possibility that some of the medallists will test positive as the science improves.

You'd have to wonder if Tom Barr is going to be getting a medal in the post in some future year?

You'd like to think those in charge are trying to genuinely clean up the sport. I think everything that has happened recently will have scared some people into not taking something.

There were very few world records broken in Rio and, apart from the women's 10,000m, there weren't too many races that made you wonder.

The women's 800m does throw up an interesting debate, but then you wonder are some people just freaks of nature, and are we too sceptical at times?

I like to think Usain Bolt is one of those. His personality is even very different from the norm.

He was really good as a junior and came through the ranks. You could always see his progression. If there was ever a freak of nature he is one, and it was obvious in Rio that age is catching up with him, which was also a good sign.

I'd describe the Irish athletics' team's performances as solid. All six of our marathon runners finished the race which was an achievement in itself, the same in the 50km walk, another gruesome event.

We're a small country and other countries have a much greater pick. We didn't bring back any athletics medals but I think we did ourselves justice.

My personal Olympic highlight was definitely Thomas Barr.

Athletics is my sport and his finish will be played over and over again, and will inspire a lot of other Irish athletes to believe we can compete with the best in the world.

His personality and the way he holds himself is lovely as well. Our athletes should realise it's OK to have a bit of fun and relax sometimes, to go with the flow and take it all in.

You have to be able to rise to the big occasion and that's what he did.

We could have more Olympic finalists. Ciara Mageean and Mark English are good enough to be making finals, and the more athletes that we get to finals there'll be a snowball effect. It will give others more belief.

Remembered

Unfortunately though, I think it Rio will be an Olympics remembered for the Pat Hickey story. I'm up at home in Cavan at the moment and unfortunately that's what most people are talking about.

Personally I found it a strange Olympics, especially with the stadium only being half-full. It should be packed and the atmosphere should be overwhelming.

All the road races - marathons and walks - should have finished in the stadium too. That was ridiculous!

Big-city marathons finish on a road but Olympic marathons are all about running into the stadium and doing that last final lap with the crowd erupting. The thought of that would drive you on.

Apparently it didn't finish in the stadium for safety reasons, because it was in a rough area. Again, that makes me ask was this the right city to host an Olympics? They shouldn't be held in a place with so much poverty and it makes you wonder who makes these decisions and why?

The Olympics are meant to inspire people, especially young people, but when I asked Deirbhile if she enjoyed them she said "no".

The time-difference was obviously a factor, but so was all the controversy, even things like the boxing judging. There was far too much negativity and it looks like that overpowered all the good things, which was a real shame.

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