Joanne O'Riordan: Olympics have provided an outlet we didn't realise we needed

Athletes have displayed love, respect and togetherness during a time of darkness

It's late, we're bleary-eyed and cognitive functions are casually slowing. Brain fog begins to set and the brightness of the TV makes the eyes go nice and dry. It can only mean one thing: together, higher, faster and half-asleep, it's obviously the Tokyo Olympics.

Funnily enough, for an event that had been blighted by controversy over the last year due to Covid-19, with Japanese residents unsure about whether it should go ahead or not and protests at the opening ceremony, the magic of sport is that once it gets going, you oddly forget. For what it’s worth, over 60 per cent of Japanese residents polled feel the same way.

Somehow, despite it being the most peculiar Olympics taking place during a time of a lot of social instability with phoney platitudes of peace, love, respect and togetherness in a time when that couldn’t be further from the truth, the actual competitors, coaches and volunteers have accidentally showcased those ideals time and time again.

Take Team GB diver Tom Daley for instance: he has been busting a gut for well over a decade to finally win gold. He's won bronze twice, most notably in 2012 in London, a year after his number one supporter, his father, died. He also became an incredible champion outside the pool for those in the LGBTQ community.


Gold-winning interview

So, when Daley's gold-winning interview aired in the likes of Russia and China, countries of athletes he'd just beat, it broke through any cultural barrier that had been put in place due to same-sex marriage being illegal there.

Daley spoke eloquently about how he’s excited to join his family, husband and new son in his post-Olympic celebrations and intends on taking time off to solely focus on his family. Although the interview was Daley just being open and honest about his life, it transcended global barriers and provided hope to those struggling with their identity.

The new hot spot at the Olympics was skateboarding, captured beautifully by Team USA’s Jagger Eaton, vibing with his AirPods and playlist during runs, and Philippine athlete Margielyn Didal smashing her head off the ground in a fall, only to hop up laughing after giving everyone their 2am wake-up call.

Although Margielyn didn’t medal, she ended her landmark event in seventh place, losing out to three teenagers whose combined age equalled 42. A 13-year-old, another 13-year-old and a 16-year-old stood proudly on the podium, showcasing that girls can do exactly what the men do, and maybe better.

Momiji Nishiya of Japan, at 13 years and 330 days, became the second-ever youngest gold medallist at an Olympics, with Rayssa Leal, also 13, of Brazil taking the silver medal, almost becoming the youngest ever gold medallist.

The beauty of skateboarding was the insane camaraderie among competitors. It’s rare during an event at the Olympics that competitors would cheer each other on, let alone openly accept failure and use it as a tool to come back. Whenever any skateboarder fell, rather than sit and let it mentally consume you, they popped back up with a smile and moved on to the next one. Sure there were stressful moments, but overall it was good vibes only.

Or how about Carolyn Hayes in triathlon. The incredible story of the Limerick doctor who parked her career to properly pursue triathlon. In near-typhoon conditions at 6.30am in Tokyo, she managed to chase down the second pack and cement her place as one of Ireland's incredible resilient heroes . . . not enough to make me want to compete in a triathlon!

Steely determination

Who could forget about Grange's golden girl Mona McSharry? I was incredibly fortunate to be poolside during Swim Ireland's qualifiers and saw Mona return from Tennessee to qualify for her first Olympics in her first race. That politeness and sheer excitement are matched with a steely determination and motivation to aspire to be the best.

From her mom and dad driving her to Ballyshannon at 4.30am for training, the community aspect of her team, mixed with the professionalism in Tennessee, has suited Mona. To quote the woman of the week, she's going to need to change her Paris 2024 goals.

So, while parts of the Olympics feel like we’re attending someone’s house party, I think it’s fair to say it has provided an outlet that many people did not realise they needed.

For the folks in Japan, seeing some hometown heroes succeed despite the odds proved to unite more people than expected, emphasised by Momiji Nishiya’s win, where small crowds gathered to celebrate with her.

For us mere mortals sitting at home, despite the tiredness and incoming sleep issues we are all destined to face, we can all safely say it’s been one hell of a journey.