London 2012 has brought lots of tears, triumphs and disappointments… I was lucky enough to be in Weymouth yesterday for a near bid for success by Ireland’s Annalise Murphy, who did her country and her family proud by running the Dutch and Belgian women pretty close near the end.
She’s 22, and now knows what Olympic loss is like, and she has the talent to come back again. She gave the many Irish who turned up in the Dorset seaside resort to take some pride in some audacious sailing on a medal day. Barring the result, I loved every minute of it.
Amongst other highlights Felix Sanchez 400m hurdle gold has to figure as one of the most impressive. Dai Green may have been one of TEAM UK’s bigger disappointments, but the London crowd lifted the metaphorical roof of the Olympic stadium when the 34 year old won in the same time he had in Athens
4 8 years ago.
One time European Gold medal winner for Ireland Peter Charles helped Team GB take a show jumping gold in a playoff with Holland. The Liverpool born Charles began his international career with the UK, then in 1992 elected to ride for Ireland.
In 2007, he ‘jumped’ back to GB, and has now been rewarded with that country’s first team gold since 1952.
In fact, what’s interesting about this Olympics is how the Irish sportsmen and women that have figured most prominently in these ‘home Olympics’ have not been associated with Team Ireland, in rowing, canoeing, [Erm, track cycling? - Ed].
That, of course, is about to change with the boxing whirlwind that is Katie Taylor… and hopefully Paddy Barnes… But it is striking how many Irish sportsmen (though in the case of some sports they’ve been competing for the GB for some time) have chosen GB over Ireland.
At the end of the day, the point of sport is to win. And the point of all that deferred gratification sportsmen and women endure is to do the best they can be. In most Olympic sports, that’s become a much shorter faster route if you compete for Team GB than Team Ireland.
It’s worth remembering that in the past the gap in competence, resource and achievement was nowhere as wide as it is today. Some of that rise in success comes from the mere presence of the Olympics in London. But some of it, like the cycling actually predates the actual bid itself.
Like elections, it takes more than one Olympic cycle to create outstanding success. Some of that comes to money and investment in projects like the velodrome in Manchester.
Some to campaigns like that fronted by Steve Redgrave looking to get tall athletes to diversify into a range of sports and then select from that.
The scale of Team GB’s success does not surprise me. This rush medals came from a widespread form of strategic investment (which encompassed some intermediary infrastructure investment for the Commonwealth Games in Manchester)…
Irish sport cannot (nor should we ever expect to) do anything on that scale, but we might have expected it to have been smarter at investing more broadly in international sport in what government ministers have been keen to say were the nearest to home Olympics.
That boxing once again, which has always been possessed of a strong working class and independent culture (and one lass put through her paces from the age of six, by the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire) is holding up the national honour at these games…
It begs the question why a country long accustomed to punching above its weight was not able to find more practical ways of piggybacking on the British decision to scale up their investment?