Wednesday 22 November 2017

Let's ditch cynicism for a purer, better Games

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

I didn't trust the Olympics. It was the way Sonia O'Sullivan was cheated that turned most of us off. That was in a World Championships during which coach Ma Junren, a renowned doper, claimed he was feeding his Chinese athletes turtle soup. Ma was laughing at us -- and Sonia.

There were these three Chinese girls way out in front with Sonia barely in the same time zone and Ma up in the stands boiling turtles. Taking the p**s while his girls' urine samples tested negative.

Then there was the Michelle de Bruin case. Michelle has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing, but the sporting authorities banned her when they decided that the sample she gave to testers had been tampered with.

The De Bruin case would be worthy of a full newspaper in itself, but the fact is that our triple gold medal winner was found guilty by the sports bodies. We all stuck up for Michelle when the Yanks accused her of cheating. Even President Clinton said it was sour grapes.

Michelle has more gold than they found in Derrynaflan. I know she never tested positive during the Olympics but for me her medals have forever lost their sheen.

For years the fastest men in the world were running on rocket fuel, and if Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a sprinter she too would have been under a cloud. The sad thing was the clean athletes were tarnished; guilty by merely being on the same track.

Jerry Kiernan was doing his Leaving Cert when I was a first year in St Michael's in Listowel. There he was climbing a steep hill in the Cow's Lawn as he tried in vain to catch his steamy breath on freezing cold mornings when the rest of the boys were turning over for their second sleep. We all knew he was going to become an Olympian and in 1982 Jerry finished ninth in the LA Olympic marathon. John Treacy was second and if there was a gold for the best team, Ireland would have won it.

Kiernan gave all of his life to athletics yet he could have been beaten by blood doping, although he himself says the men who finished in front of him in LA were all clean.

And how we cheered for Eamonn Coghlan and grieved with him when he hit the bar in two Olympics. Kaarlo Maaninka of Finland, who finished in front of Coghlan, later admitted to blood doping.

Maaninka stored his blood over the winter, and he was hardly keeping it for making black puddings in the spring.


This week Morocco's Mariem Alaoui Selsouli, hot favourite for the women's 1500m, was provisionally suspended after testing positive for the banned diuretic furosemide.

This is no obscure hairy- lady muscle maniac with bits of men's appendages desperately trying to thrust their way out of a hormone-fed pelvis. The 1500m is the big race of the Games -- the perfect test of the athlete's speed and endurance.

Katie Taylor carries the hopes of a nation, but while she is a credit to her family and her country, boxing too has been tarnished by corruption at worst, and incompetence at best.

It goes back to the Seoul Olympics when Park Si Hun was hammered by Roy Jones Jnr of the United States. Park was a South Korean and he was gifted the gold.

Because of the crookery, a new system of scoring was brought in and we were told all was fair and above board, but then our own Joe Ward missed out on a London Olympic place after a bad decision in the World Championships.

There was no corruption involved but a terrible mistake was made due to incompetence. The hope is Katie is so talented and so high-profile, she will escape the geopolitical intrigue.

There is something purer about this Olympics, or maybe it's the fact the Games are being held so near to home, in a city we know so well.

It could be we should look back to past greats to rediscover the innocence of different times when the fastest nearly always won.

We all have our favourites. Mine is Dave Wottle, the man with the cap, who took his new wife to the Munich Games on their honeymoon.

Wottle was pale and red-haired with arms as white as snow. You wouldn't think he could run up and down the stairs without an oxygen supply. He wore a golf cap because he said his hair was too long. My guess is a stray ray of sun would have burnt him to toast.

He was so far behind in the 800m final in Munich in 1972 that it seemed he was injured. The Kenyans led and bit by bit Wottle snuck up on them. An unlikely Russian took the lead and it looked like Wottle would never catch him, but he did, by a nose, on the line. The Russian collapsed with the shock of it. And how long is a nose? It's a 300th of a second.

We will therefore suspend our cynicism in honour of the good and the great for the duration of the Games. This was how it was in the days of the ancient Greeks, when war was a way of life.

The Olympics was a time of peace and the athletes competed for laurel garlands and the greater glory of their gods. Before we were cynics, we were hero-smitten boys and girls, in those faraway days before gold was forged in the infamous labs of alchemy.

The small boy and girl inside all of us must be left out to play. For Eamonn Coghlan and Jerry Kiernan. For Sonia O'Sullivan and John Treacy. For young Katie. For London 2012.

Irish Independent

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