Sometimes the hardest thing about the Olympics isn’t just the taking part or the winning but the letting go. And not just for the athletes. They just seem to take over your life, and there is no getting away from the near 24-hour coverage on TV, radio and across all newspapers.
For the athletes and coaches and team staff who have been involved in the build up to these Olympics, it will all seem to have gone by so quickly. And of course for the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) the fallout continues in another sense.
So much time and effort put into the preparation, often a full four years, and now it’s time to reflect, pick up the pieces and move forward.
Having been there many times – as an athlete, leader of the team, and for Rio as an RTÉ analyst – I have felt this dramatic come down every time. The Olympic daily routine is instantly taken away and you are left wondering what to do next.
For me the simplest thing to do has always been to go for a run. Even last Monday, after numerous nights in a row until 3am, I knew this was the only place I could find peace and solace, escaping the constant flow of newspapers piling up, finding it impossible to read everything I had put aside to read later.
There is more attention and care given to athletes now when this Olympic bubble bursts; as soon as you leave the village everyone starts branching off in different directions, all wondering in their own minds, where to next?
It is good to see that some athletes will be using their Olympic fitness to take the opportunity to get some race experience, and chase fast times. Ciara Mageean is going to try and improve her times, starting in Paris on Sunday. There is no doubt the faster times you know you can run, the more confidence and belief that you gain for use at future championships. Mark English also will continue to race and who knows, that 22-year-old Irish record of David Matthews may get a rattle.
This is of course an athlete’s livelihood and an opportunity to earn some money as many will have had to turn down races in the lead up to Rio to stick to a specific training plan.
Paul O’Donovan is back on the water pulling like a dog at the World Rowing Championships this week in Rotterdam.
It can be a very draining time around the Olympic village when finished competing. I know in Athens when things didn’t go right for me I couldn’t wait to get back to normality and a sense of routine in my life.
A lap of Bushy Park in London reset things for me and I was able to focus on overcoming the disappointment the only way I knew – by winning races and getting some satisfaction for the months and months of training and dedication I had put in leading up to the Olympics.
When you walk off the Olympic stage unfulfilled it is so easy to throw in the towel and walk away. However experience told me if I stop at that juncture, it’s a long time to get back to this fitness level again and months before I would be back on the track.
I never thought Athens would be my final lap of an Olympic track. In 2008 I tried to qualify for the marathon but numerous injuries meant I never got that chance.
As a result I ended up in Dublin with RTÉ. I enjoyed it but just felt there was something missing; I wasn’t ready yet to break my connection with athletics.
I wanted to keep a link and to have some connection with young Irish athletes as they were making their way up the ranks, a sense of wanting to give something back and share my experiences with aspiring Olympic athletes.
It was not long after that when I was asked if I would like to sit on The Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI).
I believed this was as good an opportunity as any to stay connected with athletes and inspire through example or just some simple advice, as they took steps through the international ranks.
In 2009 I was given the role of deputy Chef de Mission for the European Youth Olympics in Tampere, Finland. It was one of the most successful youth championships for Ireland. We won seven medals, including a gold by Ciara Mageean over 1,500m and bronze by Christine McMahon, in the 400m hurdles, who only just missed going to Rio this year.
Then in 2010 I was nominated as Chef de Mission for the 2012 London Olympics; I was delighted to accept this role, without any hesitation.
I knew after spending so many of my best years training in London – being well familiar with the best places to train and base ourselves – I could help facilitate the best training venue for Team Ireland ahead of those Games.
It was a superb pre-Games camp, that helped produce some of the best ever results for an Irish Olympic team, winning six medals in the end.
My aim throughout the build-up to London was that the athletes’ needs would always be a priority.
I felt as if I was not too far away from my own life as an athlete, and I understood what athletes required; and so I was able to ensure that all these requirements were fulfilled.
I believe that the Rio pre-Games training camp was modelled on the London experience; I can’t be sure as I never visited Uberlandia, where many of the Irish stayed before Rio, although all reports from the athletes seemed positive.
Compared to London, I had very little involvement with the Rio preparations. As a result I never had any inclination to travel to this year’s event. I choose to stay and work with RTÉ. I wanted to have some connection with Rio but without any direct link with any athletes, there was no purpose for me to travel to Rio.
I am an athlete at heart and my passion is to help and advise any athletes that may want or need it. I have never been interested in the administration and so it was as much a shock to me as anyone when the Olympic Council of Ireland was drawn in to the ticketing issues in Rio.
There have been many news reporters wanting to speak to me and I have not spoken to anyone because, until the investigations have run their course, I won’t know any more than what’s being written in the papers, or else spoken through the news.
Even at that, I am at the stage where I don’t know what to believe, as this story has been sensationalised and currently there is no proof or evidence to tell the full story. That can only come with time.