A breathtaking Olympics
Team Ireland, take a bow. For the last 17 days, the 66 athletes who travelled to London for the Olympic games have delivered some of the greatest moments in Irish sporting history. Exhilarating and inspiring, they gave the country memories to treasure as they competed against the world’s best with honour and distinction.
In returning home today with one gold, one silver and three bronze medals they have delivered the best performance by an Irish team since the Melbourne games in 1956. By coincidence four of the medals in that year were also won by boxers. The magnificent spectacle of the last two weeks has underlined once again why the global sporting extravaganza that is the Olympics still casts a magic spell every four years.
Accusations that the Olympic movement has sold its soul to commercial interests and abandoned most of its original ideals can only be answered when the world’s best athletes gather in the host city.
And London certainly delivered with substance and style. Whether it was Michael Phelps in the swimming pool, Katie Taylor in the boxing ring, Usain Bolt on the track or Bradley Wiggins on the streets of London, a global audience has been served up a feast of excellence that would satisfy even the strongest critic of the Olympics.
While the medal winners take most of the accolades, it’s competitors like Annalise Murphy in sailing and Rob Heffernan in walking – as well as the thousands of others who finish far from the podium – who represent the essence of the Olympics.
The disappointment and heartbreak they suffer is as much a part of the Olympic drama as the joy and ecstasy of the champions. Living off relatively modest grants in many cases, they put themselves through years of pain, dedication and sacrifice to qualify for the Olympics. Their performances are the most compelling argument why the elite sport grant programme should not be cut in the forthcoming budget.
How can anyone argue that the €280,000 Katie Taylor has received in grants over the last seven years is not a complete vindication of investing in our best athletes? Government Ministers, who are invariably the first to jump on the bandwagon of sporting success, need to back those shallow soundbites with proper funding.
In comparison to most of our EU partners we trail dismally in terms of facilities. Even gold medal winner Katie Taylor was forced to train for most of the last four years in a gym without basic toilet facilities.
Any doubts that sport does not enrich society have been answered in the most emphatic manner by a truly spectacular Olympics.
Brilliantly staged and magnificently organised, this has been the most captivating sports event that most people have ever witnessed. London will be remembered as the greatest games of recent times and, like the Irish team, should also take a bow. Both delivered in breathtaking style.