Mum's the word
OLYMPIC MUMS:Parental support is invaluable to the success of Ireland’s Olympians, yet they don’t even receive tickets to see their offspring compete. KATHY SHERIDANmeets the mothers of four Irish competitors in this year’s games
IT MUST BE nice to rear an Olympian. No fighting over the Xbox. No loafing in bed till midday. No hair-raising drink benders or overdosing on McDonalds or running off to join the circus. How grand would that be? Ask a mother what made her little Olympian prodigy stand out, and it distils to the same qualities: discipline, dedication, doggedness, diet. Day after relentless day. Sadly, there is no short-cut to greatness. And great athletes tend not to spring from couch potatoes.
Bridget Taylor, mother of the boxer, Katie, says her daughter was almost worryingly quiet and shy as a child, “not your typical girl”, and did what her closest brother did, whether it was running, football or boxing. Cathy MacAleavey, mother of the sailor, Annalise Murphy, describes her daughter as “incredibly single-minded”. Patricia Griffin, mother of Colin, who competes in the 50km walk race, says he “was always a bit different . . . There was no messing around.”
These mothers don’t mess around either. Whereas fathers are often deferred to as coaches/protectors/mentors, mothers tend to be left with the default position of lacrimonious cheer leader. Yet interviews with four mothers of Irish Olympic athletes reveal that three of them had serious independent involvement with the sport.
That includes Bridget Taylor, who only concedes after a little prodding that she was a boxing judge before Katie was born, in a time when the sport was overwhelmingly male and awash with prejudice. “I may have been the first woman to judge a senior national final,” she says finally. “It was different then. You’d be there with young children and you’d hear the comments. It wasn’t nice at times.”
So for all the reservations around the general commercialisation of the Olympic ideal and the irredeemably cheesy language of the ad copy, PG – makers of Ariel, Pampers and Fairy Liquid among other stuff that is traditionally the province of mammies – was tapping a productive vein when it hit on the notion of a “Thank You Mum” campaign.
It fills a vacuum left by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which does not recognise Olympians’ families at all – not even with a couple of free tickets to their child’s event. It’s a startling omission, given the profound, continuing familial influences on most athletes.
Chloe Magee, Olympic badminton player and one of a family of eight, was nurtured by her father and mother, who both played. She is coached by her brother, who is also the Irish national coach. In fact, the four youngest Magees are all involved with the sport on a virtually full-time basis.
This week, PG did what the IOC probably should be doing and opened what they call a “home from home” for athletes’ families in the vast old redbrick Vinopolis building beside London Bridge. This is equipped with big cream sofas, a viewing area to watch the games, laundry service, children’s play areas, beauty treatment rooms, a restaurant and a cool “man cave” for males who want to hide out for a while and play fussball.
Unfortunately, Audrey Magee, Chloe’s mother, won’t get to see any of it. She will be staying home with her father, who has Alzheimer’s disease and is fighting a chest infection. But Bridget Taylor is here, flying the flag, working hard at dampening the presumptions of gold enveloping her daughter. “The Olympic Games have a habit of writing their own stories,” she cautions, recalling “the Croatian girl who arrived unbeaten to the games and came second to a German girl”.