True spirit of Olympic Games not completely lost

Irish women represent what is the enduring best attributes of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’

London-born Ellis O’Reilly will become the first female gymnast to represent Ireland at the Olympic Games. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

London-born Ellis O’Reilly will become the first female gymnast to represent Ireland at the Olympic Games. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.

 

So, Rio is almost upon us, the build-up interminable but a mere fraction of it focussed on actual sporting matters, the bulk of it taken up with repeated dismal (doping) reminders of why the average reading on the enthusiasm scale for the 2016 edition of “The Greatest Show on Earth” would appear to be in or around “meh”.

We’d be right, then, to protect ourselves with a shield of scepticism when/if we tune in from Friday? Indeed, but while we’ll know that the list of competitors will likely contain more than a few who would happily chuck their grannies over a cliff if it gained them an extra second or inch, there’ll be plenty, too, who choose not to imperil said grannies for the sake of a golden moment, a heap of lucrative endorsements and an open-top parade on their return home.

It’s not easy, but sometimes we have to remind ourselves that not every Olympian is fuelled by greed, deceit and a maniacal ego. One such reminder came earlier this week with a browse through the 26-strong list of sportswomen who will represent Ireland in Brazil. That list brought reminders of the rich and inspirational stories of so many of these women, from 39-year-old Sinead Lynch (née Jennings) from Letterkenny, to a teenager half her age, London’s Ellis O’Reilly.

Second Captains

In 2012, O’Reilly’s sister Jenna, a four-time British boxing champion, was chosen to lead Katie Taylor in to the ring for her gold medal bout at the London Olympics. Four years on Ellis will become the first woman to represent Ireland in gymnastics at the Olympics having declared for the country of her grandfather’s birth. She won’t win a medal in Rio, but competing there will, she has said, more than justify those 26 hours a week training, while studying for her A levels at the same time.

Lives on hold

Or who overcame gut-wrenching disappointments to come back determined to fare better. Like Annalise Murphy, fourth in London.

Or those who made Ireland their home and now proudly represent it. Like Latvian-born Sanita Puspure.

Or, like O’Reilly, represent the home place of their parents or grandparents, among them Australian Shannon McCurley, American Tori Pena and English woman Andrea Brewster.

Great stories all, and we’ll hear more of them over the next couple of weeks. And that’ll be the best thing about Rio, the reminder that while the occasion might be tainted, there will be plenty there who can persuade us that the “Olympic spirit” isn’t just a quaint, antiquated notion, some actually still live it.

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