Derval O’Rourke: ‘Who cares if there’s nobody in the stadium?’

Three-time Olympian says athletes must prioritise performance over experience in Tokyo

The ban on singing and chanting certainly wouldn't bother her and Derval O'Rourke sounds pretty clear on the rest of the Tokyo Playbook, published by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Wednesday as a first guideline on how the Games will proceed next July.

As well as regular Covid-19 testing, athletes are advised not to use public transport unless given permission, and even within the Olympic Village look to maintain a two-metre distance at all times (tricky, probably), while they can only support their fellow athletes “by clapping and not singing or chanting”.

A three-time Olympian in the 60m hurdles, O’Rourke has already been debating the prospects of a more muted Tokyo with her husband Peter O’Leary, a two-time Olympian in sailing, and believes athletes should not be bothered either way.

“First of all I’m a useless singer, so no singing wouldn’t bother on me,” she says. “I’ve thought about this a lot since last year, when they were first postponed, and opinions are irrelevant, you have to prepare like it’s going ahead. There’s no point considering any other alternative. You have to prepare ruthlessly for it, you cannot take your eye off the fact there’s an Olympics happening.


“One of my biggest mistakes as an athlete was buying into the party that was the Olympics as opposed to the performance. The Olympics is the same even as the World Championships as a physical event. All of us, we love the party, the atmosphere, but if you’re doing any event it has to be about performance.

“In terms of them not having the same experience, who cares about the experience if you come home and give the best performance of your life? My best performance was in London and I wasn’t that far off the final. Experience-wise I didn’t have a great time but I look back on that as my best one.

“For the athletes, you just want to go and perform. Who cares if people are chanting? Who cares if there’s nobody in the stadium? I remember coming fourth at a world outdoors in 2009, and saying to my coach ‘it was so quiet here last night’ and he said ‘last night was incredibly loud, you just never heard it’.

“When you’re there to perform, it doesn’t matter who’s in the stadium, it shouldn’t matter. The Olympics is about going there to do your best. The other stuff, it’s not relevant.”

Packed stadiums

Speaking at the announcement of Allianz extending an eight-year worldwide partnership with the Olympic and Paralympic Movements, O’Rourke also believes the absence of packed stadiums may in some instances work to the athlete’s advantage,

“Everyone should be worried about the athletes getting a chance to perform, and not worrying about us getting a chance to experience, because it’s about performance. It’s about giving people that chance to represent that talent and hard work. People give up their lives to prepare for an Olympics.

“I did for years, from 2000 to 2014, the Olympics cemented all these phases of my life. Whatever your event is, it’s not about is there a stand outside selling teddy bear mascots and mugs with logos, who cares? That’s all fluff – it’s always about the performance.”

O’Rourke also welcomes the idea of Athletics Ireland staging three mirco-meetings later this month to afford Irish athletes the chance to qualify for next month’s European Indoors Championships in Poland.

“The Irish athletes have been really gracious, nobody has been complaining, they’ve been really measured and I think now they deserve for us to pull out all the stops for them to prepare and one of those is putting on an indoor meet for them.

“As a country we don’t have a huge amount of athletes capable of performing and bringing home a medal, so for the sake of the handful that it is, to facilitate them running at home should not be beyond the realms of possibility.”