No jackets required for Ireland's 90 officials

Fri, Jul 13, 2012, 01:00

The Irish blazerati will be conspicuous by their absence in London, as Ireland’s back-up team will don casual sports gear. IAN O’RIORDANreports

WHEN PAT Hickey found himself defending the fact that accompanying the 65 Irish competitors at the London Olympics would be 90 officials, he promptly pointed out they were not “blazers”, but “experts”.

Although the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) is rarely caught wearing anything other than a blazer, Hickey’s clarification was apt: for the first time, none of Ireland’s accredited officials are being issued with a blazer. Instead, casual sporting attire will be designed for their roles.

“These are the coaches, the physios, the nutritionists,” explained Hickey, “and by that I mean every sort of back-up that an athlete could need.”

Indeed most countries end up sending far more officials than competitors. On Monday, the British Olympic Committee (BOC) confirmed their final entry of 542 competitors, across 26 sports, plus a backroom team of 819, which includes 519 full-time support staff, and 300 voluntary or part-time support staff – for a grand total of 1,361.

The Irish total of 155 seems modest by comparison, even accounting for the differences in population. With 14 sports represented, it will be the most diverse Irish team in Olympic history, although the total of 65 competitors is not the largest (that record still rests with the London Olympics team of 1948, when the Irish entry officially numbered 100, but only 80 got to compete, as politics, in some cases, interfered).

Of the 90 officials listed to work with Ireland in London, only 76 are fully accredited, and the rest entitled to “rotate accreditations”.

The accreditation of national Olympic committees is based on the number of competitors qualified, and with that the entitlement to full or rotated accreditations. Athletics Ireland (AI), for example, are entitled to two additional personal coach accreditations per day.

“The way it works is we’re entitled to two daily personal coaches accreditation, for use each day,” explains Patsy McGonagle, athletics team manager at the Games. “This is based on the number of athletes we’ve qualified, or 23, and we can rotate these passes each day, but only use two coaches at a time.

“Now there may be some days when we would have five athletes in action, all looking to bring in their personal coaches, but we have to prioritise, and can only ever allow two of those personal coaches at a time.”

McGonagle is travelling to his fourth Olympics, and third as Irish Athletics team manager (after Sydney 2000, and Beijing 2008). The 1948 Irish team in London included his father, Lieut Pat McGonagle, who was part of the 13-man soccer squad (who lost 2-1 to the Netherlands).

“You do get to enjoy some of the Olympic excitement,” he says, “but at the same time you can get caught up in whatever controversy or negativity that might arise. There was a bit of that in Sydney, with the gear row, but for the most part I did get to enjoy Beijing. There is always some big fear about something, as well. Like in Beijing it was how athletes would cope with the smog. As it turned out the there no problem at all.”

For physical therapist Ger Hartmann, London marks his sixth Olympics – he worked solo in Barcelona in 1992 with, as it turned out, 11 medal winners, then with the OCI in Atlanta in 1996, and for the last three Olympics, with the British Olympic team.

“I’m three weeks and two days committed to team Ireland,” says Hartmann, “and there’s not one penny remuneration here, and that goes for all of us in the medical team. We’re giving our full commitment to be part of the Olympic movement, and to be a part of team Ireland. I was on £500 a day when I was with the British Olympic team.

“But I take great honour in this position. I started with the OCI in 1996 in Atlanta, and I was asked to come back on board for the last two Olympics. But at the time a high proportion of my athletes were actually with the British team, such as Paula Radcliffe, so it just wouldn’t have been possible to give the Irish team my full commitment.

“And of my five Olympics, I can count on one hand the number of events I’ve actually sat down in the stadium to. You spend nearly all your time at the warm-up track and back at the village waiting for athletes to come back for a late massage.

“And I’ve never walked in the opening ceremony.

“Most importantly, these are the first Olympics where there isn’t even an official Irish blazer. The parade jacket is a casual, sporting jacket. Because we’re there at the call of the athletes, 24/7. We won’t be sitting around in suits and ties anywhere in London, sipping cocktails.”

MY ROLE: Three members of the Irish support team on the demands facing them in London


Deputy Chef de Mission

Stephen Martin is from Bangor in Co Down and played hockey for Britain and Ireland, where he captained both sides. He won an Olympic bronze medal with Britain at the 1984 Olympics and a gold with Britain in 1988. He is the chief executive of the Olympic Council of Ireland and was deputy chef de mission with the British Olympic team in 2000, ’02 and ’04.

“Deputy chef de mission role is a real mixed bag at Games time so we all have to muck in and do what’s required. It involves leadership and management of all aspects of the operation in support of the Irish athletes. You act as key contact between Team Ireland and the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and the IOC sports director as well as a contact for each of the team leaders, eg Billy Walsh (boxing), James O’Callaghan (sailing). You’re involved in team accreditations and allocation of accommodation within Olympic villages at London, Eton Dorney, Weymouth and Greenwich.

“There is also the day-to-day administration and operations of the team headquarters and the administration of flight arrivals and departures and initial team briefings on arrival to ensure familiarity and ease of entry to the Village.

“I would also liaise with all outlying locations, which are spread around London and further – Broxbourne, Eton, etc. There is also the responsibility for planning and delivering all transport requirements and for administrative support to Team Ireland, management of team mobile and radio communications. You also have to make sure that the ticketing to family and friends works smoothly (two tickets per athlete each round and one per round for swimming).”



Athletics team manager

“I’ll head to London on July 22nd, but my job began well over a year ago, checking out the venues, the accommodation, and continued right up to this week, which has been about issuing the team gear. So it’s been well over a year in planning.

“We’ll be based firstly at the training camp at St Mary’s University, which is where I went to college myself. It’s an environment I know very well, and a 10-minute walk away from Lensbury, and the team holding accommodation.

“Right now it’s about nailing down the daily routine, to ensure that everything works as smoothly as possible – ensuring every athlete is met at their airport, shown to their room, all accreditation is in order.

“The athletes will start coming in to St Mary’s from July 23rd, although the athletics doesn’t actually start at the Olympics until midway through. Only some athletes have decided to take part in the opening ceremony, so they will check into the village that day, and then come back to Lensbury, a day or two later.

“My key role is to ensure every athlete has every aspect of their competition day planned for. They’ll be shadowed by someone the entire day. It’s not just a matter of saying “meet you at the warm-up”, because we have a whole series of check marks, right through from the village to the warm-up to getting them into the call room at the correct time.

“When you meet an athlete on the day of their competition you first ask them three simple questions: have they their number? Have they their accreditation? Have they their spikes? It might sound silly, but when an athlete is under the pressure that comes with the Olympics then it’s only human nature that they might forget something.”


Pysical therapist

“I leave for London next Sunday week, and will be part of the OCI medical staff that includes two doctors, two physiotherapists, one physical therapist, which is myself, and one massage therapist. We’re the core, OCI medical team, on top of the medical teams of the individual governing bodies.

“For the first 10 days I’ll be at the holding camp, in Lensbury. A lot of track and field athletes will be based there, plus some cyclists, and triathletes, but my main brief is to look after the track and field athletes in the holding camp, first, and then to move into the village with them, once the competitions get under way. In the past that transition has created some problems.

“These are my sixth Olympics, and it’s not just clinical experience you try to bring, but all the other issues the Olympics raise. Sometimes it’s not just physical problems, but emotional ones too. My Olympic bag is packed, and it’s all tracksuits, or sporting apparel. I’ve no slacks, no dress shoes, no social wear. I’m there to work 24/7. I’ve never been to the opening ceremony, and won’t be in London. Because I’ll likely to be up at 7am the following morning, treating athletes. It’s a big responsibility, because we can’t afford to get anything wrong. You’re dealing with athletes who are going to be very sensitive, at the defining point in their lives, and for some the first or last chance to achieve in the Games.

“And you’re trying to maintain the same energy levels yourselves. What a team doesn’t want is for a medical staff not to be up to the task. One of the physios with the British team in Athens ended up getting burnt out by the pressure, and you don’t want that to happen with any of us in London.”



Chef de Mission: Sonia O’Sullivan.

Deputy Chef de Mission: Stephen Martin

Logistics: Martin Burke

Chief Medical Officer: Dr Seán Gaine

Team Doctor: Dr David Fegan

Team Medical officer: Dr Rod McLoughlin, Dr Suzi Clarke

Chief Physiotherapist: Aidan Woods

Physiotherapist: Sarah Jane McDonnell, Eimear O’Leary

Physical Therapist: Ger Hartmann

Neuro Muscular Therapist: John Sharky

Non Accredited Support: Dr Giles Warrington, Niamh Fitzpatrick, Dr Sharon Madigan, Mark McCabe, Dr Michael Webb, Kate Kirby, Des Jennings, Meno Shadar, Ciara Losty, Martina McCarthy, Ken Lynch, Sarah Jane Cullen, Des Earls.


Manager: Patsy McGonagle

High Performance Director: Kevin Ankrom;

Coach: Ann Keenan Buckley, Mark Carroll, Stephen Maguire, Liam Reilly, Patrick Ryan;

Physiotherapist: Kyle Alexander, Emma Gallivan


Coach: Jim Laugesen.

Team Manager: Daniel Magee


Head Coach: Billy Walsh

Manager: Des Donnelly

Coach: Zaur Antia, Pete Taylor;

Psychologist: Gerry Hussey, Conor McCarthy

Team Manager: Karl Dunne

Coach: Han Binjen, Thilo Schmitt, Ireneusz Pracharczyk


Track Coach: Andy Sparks

Bike Mechanic: Brian Kenneally


Showjumping: Team Leader: Damian McDonald

Chef de Equipe: Robert Spillane

Coach: Taylor Vard, James Tarrant

Dressage Chef d’equipe: Triona Connors

Veterinary surgeon: Marcus Swail

Coach: Ferdi Eilberg, Ian Fearon, Jessica Harrington


Supports Team

Coach: Simon Gales, Demetrios Bradshaw


Team Manager: Ciarán Ward

Coach: Keith Gough


Team Manager: Martin McElroy

Coach: Adrian Cassidy


Manager: James O’Callaghan

Coach: Ian Barker, Rory Fitzpatrick, Richard Honeyford, Mark Pickel, Ross Killian


Manager: Kevin Kilty

Coach: Joe Neville


Manager: Peter Banks

Head Coach: Ronald Claes, Bobby Madine.

Physiotherapist: Scott Murphy


Manager: Chris Jones

Coach: Tommy Evans

Physiotherapist: Deidre Burrell

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