Tokyo 2020 TV View: Here’s to Aifric and Eimear and Fiona and Emily

Ireland’s first medal of the Olympics made it worth the all-nighter - is there more to come?

Ireland’s Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty celebrate their bronze in Tokyo. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ireland’s Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty celebrate their bronze in Tokyo. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

It’s not that you actually deserve a medal for staying up late through these Olympics, but it’s very, very lovely when you get one, all the same. So lovely, in fact, that every girl born in Ireland between now and Paris 2024 should be named Aifric, Eimear, Fiona or Emily.

Not, to be honest about it, that their medal prospects in the first half of that race looked all that rosy, despite us rowing authorities on the couches of Ireland shouting useful things at them like ‘FASTER!’.

George Hamilton, like ourselves, wasn’t filled with confidence in those early stages, his commentary, in fact, beginning to sound a touch dejected as the race approached the halfway mark.

“It hasn’t been the best of starts for the Irish ….. they are somewhat cast adrift at the moment …. they need a little bit of an injection of something ….. this is the point at which the Irish will need to dig deep …. [a bit of a fretful silence]…… Ireland somewhat adrift.”

But then.

“HERE THEY ARE! ….. UP TO FOURTH! …. IRELAND PUSHING FOR THIRD! ….. IRELAND ARE NOW THIRD! ….. THERE’S A MEDAL ON THE WAY! …. HISTORY IS ABOUT TO BE MADE! …. IRELAND ARE HOOOOOOME FOR THIRD!”

Tokyo 2020

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Race of two halves

That’s what you call a race of two halves, its conclusion prompting David Gillick to plant the tricolour on Jacqui Hurley’s desk in their Tokyo studio as triumphantly as Neil Armstrong inserted his flag on the moon.

After the four collected their medals - which they had to award to each other because of Covid rules, which was a hoot - caught their breath and dusted themselves down, they had a chat with Peter Collins and his guests, Tim Harnedy and Claire Lambe, who Eimear knows quite well, her being her sister. Claire? Proud as punch.

“I was thinking of Mam having a heart attack back home,” said Eimear of the impact of that slow-ish start to the race, at which point they took the nation’s “FASTER!” advice and overtook everyone but Australia and the Netherlands.

Tim was beside himself with glee, chuffed for the quartet and for the general shape of the sport in Ireland. “The depth across Irish rowing is phenomenal at the minute, it’s absolutely brilliant to see,” he said. “Someone said to me the other day, ‘if you throw a stone in Skibbereen, you’ll probably hit an Olympian’.”

Two of those Skib’ folk who’d be hit by stones are, of course, Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy who only went and set a new world record in their lightweight double sculls semi-final, which means we’ll have an all-nighter again watching them in the final - which you will have seen by the time you read this, the hope being that you’re so ecstatic you’re actually trembling.

Paul said he would spend the eve of the final playing Scrabble, so if he was allowed ‘Mirzakhalilov’ he’d end up with a mountain of points. ‘Kurt’, if he could get the ‘K’ on a treble, wouldn’t be a bad haul either. And Kurt, as it proved, hadn’t a bad haul of points himself when he fought the top seed and reigning world champion in the last 16 of the featherweight competition, only going and winning the thing.

Swooning

“A performance for the ages,” said Kenny Egan back in Montrose, Eric Donovan left swooning too. “It needed to be perfect - and it was,” he said. “It’s up there with the great Olympic performances.”

Eric, incidentally, explains tactics so expertly for those of us who wouldn’t know a jab from a sausage, like a Boxing for Dummies guide, you end up feeling like you could step in to the ring yerself and pulverise your opponent - even Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov. But even with Eric’s help, you might still struggle against Kurt Walker. “What,” asked Paul O’Flynn, “were your tactics for the fight?” “Be fast, hit first, and get out,” he said. That he did. He’s flying.

As was Nhat Nguyen in his badminton match against world number 10 Tzu-Wei Wang. His defeat was, need it be said, a disappointment, but worse still was that the game ever ended. Thrilling, marvellous stuff. How many times did you think a rally was over, only for Nhat to retrieve the unretrievable? Yeah, gobsmacked here too. Wrists like elastic bands, reflexes bordering on the impossible.

“He’s having the time of his life,” said commentator John O’Donovan, Nguyen revelling in the heat of the contest, rather than wilting under the pressure. Ranked at 53 in the world, he should have been blown away. Instead, it was those of us watching the game who experienced that fate, in a jaw-dropping sort of way.

Hopefully, after this, whenever you chuck a stone in Dublin’s Clare Hall, you’ll hit an Olympics-bound badminton player. it’s the very least Nhat’s legacy deserves.

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