Thoughts on Ireland’s great Olympic Performance Posted 21st Aug
This 2012 Irish Olympic memory will be owned, once again by our amazing boxing team. They have a way of going about their business which is a great example to the rest of the team of how to do it. Billy Walsh and his team have found a formula that, combined with exceptionally talented boxers, works extremely well. If any future Irish Olympians need any inspiration they need to look no further than the National Stadium on the south circular road in Dublin where these athletes train day in and day out. Olympic champions are being born and bred right in front of everyone in Ireland and this games, in particular, has shown that. Katie Taylor can be seen any day of the week in Bray. She is not an invisible figure training in a faraway country where the facilities are better.
So many Irish Olympians in the past have had to leave our shores to seek superior training conditions and better coaches. All of this years medallists have stayed and prepared in Ireland. This is a huge triumph for the systems of support that have been put in place. The Irish Sports Council and the Irish Institute of Sport have had a tough job, but gradually, they are getting there and making a real and positive difference in creating and developing world beaters.
Why has their job been so tough? Ireland is not an Olympic sporting nation. Every Irish Olympian has one thing in common: they have had to turn their back’s on GAA and the national games and pursue sports that have been portrayed as fringe and eccentric. It’s just the way it is in Ireland. Becoming an Olympian takes an extra special effort in the face of gaelic sports that will always be regarded as more important. Ireland would be a much stronger nation at the Olympics if it didn’t have to contend with GAA taking most of the raw talent away. Why don’t we have an Olympic handball team, Basketball team or volleyball team? It’s because the people who could be playing those sports are playing our national game. I think Henry Shefflin would be a great Olympian and has all the physical and mental attributes to be there competing for his country but his talents have been used in our national game instead. I am not saying that this is a bad thing but in the big picture, this is what Ireland is up against as a nation when competing at the Olympic Games. We are a small nation that is primarily devoted to games not played beyond our shores. Our Olympic talent pool is therefore limited.
A huge positive step that was made this year was the appointment of Sonia O Sullivan as the Chef de Mission. Sonia has an aura about her that is inspirational in itself. All of the Olympic team would have watched Sonia as young athletes, winning silver in Sydney 2000. She kept our nation alive, in sporting terms, for many years. Having her work in a hands on role with all of our current team was the best thing that could have happened, to both the team and perhaps Sonia too. She seemed to take on the role with such enthusiasm and professionalism with apparent ease. Having an Olympian of such stature looking after you as you navigate your way through your own Olympic experience must be very comforting and motivating.
One of the most interesting things for me was seeing how social media has played its part in bringing the team closer together. In times past, we would turn up to the Olympics not knowing the other irish competitors in other sports from a bar of soap. There was very little support between athletes from different sports, except for the odd one or two. The late Darren Sutherland was always someone who asked how our races were going in Beijing and vice versa but in general, each sport kept themselves to themselves. Twitter has been a great tool for team unification in this years games. Most of the athletes have twitter accounts and they support each other and communicate with each other via tweets and I think this has knitted them all together quite well. It really did feel like “Team Ireland”.
Our medal count is comparatively huge if you think of Athens or even Beijing. Something is working. The sports council and the institute of sport are finding their feet and delivering great support to our Olympic athletes. The boxing success shows us a template that works but this success did not happen overnight. Olympic success requires the right people, at the right time with the best support. Today boxing is Ireland’s flagship sport, but who knows when that tide will turn and another sport might rise to the top using the systems and template taught by our boxing team. Success can only grow from here. Ireland is beginning to wake up to the proximity of Olympic success and hopefully the legacy of this Oympics will be the participation of our youngsters in a lot more sports than just our national game.