Friday 23 February 2018

16 things we have learned, endured, loved and suffered during Rio 2016

USA gymnastics star Simone Biles Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
USA gymnastics star Simone Biles Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

1. If Italia '90 was the moment a nation held its breath, then Rio 2016 delivered the moment which launched a nation's outrage.

Olympic boxing was shown to the world in its most vile form with the judges's decision to cast Michael Conlan as the loser. In a scrambled defence, AIBA issued a statement which included the line that it is "fully committed to a zero tolerance policy towards fair play in boxing".

Well, what unintentional honesty. What was made clear was the threat to sue anyone who voiced claims of corruption which underlined even more that this sport is in a race to the bottom. However, this should not cloud the fact that Irish boxing's High Performance Programme has to be reviewed.

2. Conlan will come home without a medal but his legacy from these Olympics will be how he spoke out. We also need more Fiona Doyles. After her heat was won by Russian Yulia Efimova, who was allowed to compete despite multiple drug offences, Doyle said: "Who are we supposed to trust now? FINA say we're a clean sport, but we're not." With US swimmer Lily King also calling out Efimova, more athletes have to become guardians of their game to try and clean them up.

3. Because the bosses don't seem all that interested. IOC president Thomas Bach must love pushing the boundaries of insult. On Thursday he congratulated newly-elected members of the IOC Athletes Commission which includes pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva from Russia, a country banned from competing in athletics in Rio. Pending approval from the IOC, Isinbayeva will be introduced at the closing ceremony tomorrow. Hang your head in shame, Bach.

4. Why is there an assumption that one man's alleged illegal activities require the rest of us to hang our heads in shame? The arrest of OCI president Pat Hickey was followed by headlines of shame for Ireland. Hold on a second, shame here only belongs to the individual who is responsible for his own actions. And, as others have pointed out, that includes Michael O'Reilly after his positive drugs test.

5. If he's got nothing to hide then Mo Farah could learn a thing or two about how to handle questions about doping from Thomas Barr. All athletes now have to be questioned and put on record how clean they say they are, especially after producing unexpected times.

Irish journalists in Rio asked Barr the question after his final and his response included the lines: "I don't want to be putting any red flags on myself but that's the way it is. There is always going to be doubts in people's minds over what's going on. But I know I am clean."

6. As well as his openness, Barr showed us the magic of the unexpected. Little pressure meant he ran with a freedom to run the race of his life. What glory in bringing your 'A' game without fear like the O'Donovan brothers. The Olympics matter because they matter to people like Annalise Murphy who attacked the final race rather than be gripped by the fear of losing like she admitted she was four years ago in London. While Rob Heffernan's longevity continues to amaze.

7. London four years ago belonged to Katie Taylor. We learned in Rio that she's not the same boxer, possibly without her dad in her corner. The most heart-breaking moment was the seconds afterwards when she couldn't get the words out in her interview with RTÉ. If this defeat taught her anything, it's that she will always have a very special place in Irish sport.

8. Not that this should be mistaken as cheerleading because that space was sown-up by BBC presenter Clare Balding. Sure, GB has plenty to be happy about. But from the moment Balding used her position as lead presenter to express her sympathy for cyclist Lizzie Armistead, who got off a suspension for three missed drugs tests, notice was as good as served that balance on an issue like this would be irrelevant.

Balding may want to look at the balance shown by Joanne Cantwell on RTÉ. Equally, when there was a time to celebrate, special mention for how Cantwell and Neville Maxwell captured the emotion perfectly after the O'Donovans won silver. We were also shown the merit in post-race interviews when there are personalities like Paul and Gary to show off.

9. While #PullLikeADog was our cheery slogan, booing also found its place for folk to show their disgust with athletes with a doping 'past', especially at the pool. But booing also showed its nasty side.

With home favourite Thiago Braz da Silva leading the pole vault, Renaud Lavillenie was booed by a section of the home crowd before his final jump, which he subsequently missed. He was unmercifully booed again at the medal presentation which left him in tears. But the Frenchman didn't help himself after comparing the atmosphere during the pole vault to Jesse Owens during Nazi Germany.

10. It was inadvisable to think a stupid, arrogant lie could last when American swimmer Ryan Lochte claimed he and his mates were robbed at gun-point until CCTV footage showed otherwise.

11. But amid all the crazy, we learned that the Olympic spirit does exist. Like the way Kieran Behan completed his floor exercise despite dislocating his knee. Like the support the Irish hockey team gave Scott Evans. Like the hugs Sinead Lynch and Claire Lambe had for the O'Donovan brothers. Like Paddy Barnes's support for his friend Conlan; because when it feels like the rest of the world is against you, it's heart-warming to know others will bend over backwards for you.

12. Bending over backwards comes naturally to some. Like Simone Biles. Truly breathtaking.

13. Some reporters were apparently doing all kind of contortions with their bodies. To do what? To get a selfie with Usain Bolt. Can we please leave that to others?

14. Like Paddy Barnes. He got ridiculous stick after losing his fight for the fun he was having on social media. Some thought his defeat was an excuse to put him back in his box. Selfie away, Paddy.

15. Wonder what it's like to be put back in your box? One email found on Pat Hickey's phone, which was released by Brazil police, was from a law firm urging Hickey to put Shane Ross "back in his box" last weekend. How events have a way of playing out.

16. Rio 2016 taught us something we already knew about the Olympics: love it or hate it, you simply can't ignore it.

Irish Independent

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