Looks as if Moscow will fail to lift the spirits and relieve this post-Olympic hangover
A year on from those perfect nights in London and the sport is off track
Night after night London put on a show, including the exploits of Mo Farah, that seemed so out of this world that it was always going to be impossible to relive any of it. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
One of the strange things about living in the mountains is that the landscape is constantly changing, and part of the view out my front door right now, by the sandy shore of Lough Tay, is a bustling little Viking village, with dozens of large heavily-bearded men, some sitting around smoky fires, others loading spears and shields onto the three enormous wooden ships berthed along jetty.
It all makes perfect sense, and not just to anyone in the film business. Because one year on from the London Olympics, everything about those sweet 16 days of glory feels not only like another time or another place but another world. In fact that Viking village feels more real right now compared to what unfolded inside the Olympic Stadium.
Night after night London put on a show that seemed so out of this world that it was always going to be impossible to relive any of it – not that they haven’t tried. London’s Diamond League meeting – rebranded as a two-day Anniversary Games - rewound the clock and drew a sell-out crowd back to the Olympic Stadium last night, and again this afternoon. Yet no matter how the BBC or anyone else tried to jazz it up the sport is probably enduring its worst post-Olympic hangover since 1936.
If anyone walking out of the Olympic Stadium last year, said the 2013 World Championships in Moscow would struggle to sell tickets, they’d have been sneered at. If anyone listed some of the reasons why (Oscar Pistorius awaiting a murder trail, David Rusisha and Yohan Blake injured, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell facing doping bans, a trail of drug offences in Russia and Turkey already, etc) they’d have been simply laughed at.
That’s the big part of the problem: this time last year Usain Bolt could hardly have imagined that the next time he was back in London, to run last night’s 100 metres, every single question he faced at the meeting press conference would be about doping, and why he should be still believed, while so many of his present or former rivals continue to show up positive tests. “I was made to inspire people and made to run,” said Bolt. “I was given a gift and that’s what I do. I know I’m clean . . . I’ve broken every record there is in every event I’ve ever done. I’ve proven myself since I was 15. I was always going to be great.”
It’s still not an entirely convincing defence, especially to those who do somehow doubt Bolt’s credibility or that of Jamaican sprinter in general: but it is about the best defence there is in the current sporting climate.
Bolt is also one of the few athletes from last year’s Olympics fairly well set to pick things up in Moscow where he left off in London (especially given the sudden absence of Gay, Powell and Blake). Mo Farah is another one, although if anyone had said that Farah would run 3:28.81 for 1,500 metres this summer, as he did in Monaco last Friday, they’d have been asked what drug they were smoking. Farah is definitely smoking, in more ways than one, as his 3:28.81 – a British and European record, and sixth fastest ever - certainly seems a little out of this world, even for an athlete of East-African birth. In fact Farah is now ranked significantly better over 1,500m (sixth on the all-time list) than he is over 5,000m (30th) and 10,000m (15th), even though they are meant to be his preferred events. Farah, in fairness, had everything set up for him in Monaco, but what next, a British record over 800m?
Anyway, maybe this post-Olympic hangover is just an age thing, just feels worse when you’re older, like real hangovers do. Sydney put on a great Olympics, in 2000, and the World Championships in Edmonton a year later felt like the Community Games in comparison. Athens in 2004 weren’t bad either, and then the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki felt like a wash-out.
The glowing exception, however, was Berlin: even after Beijing’s fairytale in 2008, and the global economic crash that followed just weeks later, Berlin in 2009 still stands out as the best World Championships to date, even if that had as much to do with the city itself as what went on inside the Olympic Stadium.
What is certain is that Irish athletes seem to suffering as bad as anyone in this post-Olympic year. Of the 23 that qualified for London last summer, as few as three will be competing at this weekend’s National Championships in Santry (Laura Reynolds in the walk, Tori Pena in the pole vault, and Jessie Barr over 400m hurdles). There are some good excuses, as Rob Heffernan’s in hard training for Moscow, Fionnuala Britton, Derval O’Rourke, Deirdre Ryan and Ciarán Ó Lionáird are either ill or injured, and the likes of Olive Loughnane, Paul Hession, Joanne Cuddihy and Alistair Cragg are on either a temporary or permanent break.
The hope, therefore, is just like the Olympic cycle itself, things will come round again, and Rio 2016 still has a great ring to it. Although in the meantime, there’s no still better cure for any hangover than a quick swim in that cold lake down beside the Vikings.