Rio breathes sigh of relief as Olympics packs up its troubles
For good and for bad these Games will remain a vivid chapter in Irish sport
Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men’s marathon at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Photograph: Diego Azubel/EPA
Strike the tents. Clear away the IOC champagne and caviar. Tot up the gold, silver and bronze and rest assured that all is well with the athletic supremacy of the US of A. Allow the hollow-eyed, ever-patient volunteers to go home and rest and dream of never again having to answer, for the millionth time, “How do I get to the velodrome?”
Note the abrupt cessation of outraged television and online profiles of life in Rio’s favelas. Expect a week or two of speculation about what will happen to athletics stadium or the BMX park “afterwards”.
Wonder again if it isn’t all an extravagance that hasn’t really cut the muster in the 21st century: $10 billion of expense for two weeks of a non-stop carnaval of sports.
In the litany of great Olympics, it’s fair to say that Rio’s turn won’t be remembered as a conspicuous success. The mood music was slightly off from the beginning, what with the dragged-out controversy over Russia’s participation to the mounting realisation that the last thing the Rio economy needed right now was to be hosting the most expensive party on earth.
They fulfilled their obligation and they were pleasant and even if there was a vague sense that the thing was teetering on the brink of disaster, like sitting in a big top watching the circus during a gale and feeling that the whole tent is about to fly away, the Olympics worked.
The transport; the scheduling; the security; the human rights issues. The Rio organisers coped, put on a brave face and got through. It remains to be seen if the organisers have the energy and the financial reserves to adequately host the Paralympic Games: already, delays in travel grants have left the presence of several countries in question and the tournament will be subjected to significant budget cuts.
So who had a good Games? For Ireland, Rio will be remembered for the splendour of the O’Donovan brothers and Annalise Murphy, for the disillusionment of the Irish boxers and for the surreal circumstances which led to the arrest and detention of OCI president Pat Hickey. For those reasons, Rio will remain a vivid chapter in Irish sport.
The momentum of Great Britain’s staggering success at their home Olympics in London four years carried through to Rio, with a fabulous haul of 27 gold medals, wedging themselves between the USA and China in second place overall. Twenty years ago, in Atlanta, Great Britain returned home with the lone gold medal achieved by Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave. It was a feat so splendid and rare that it earned the rowers a deluge of invitations on to A Question of Sport and made them famous.
Two decades later, Britain’s Olympics have been a blur of gold medals: the women’s hockey team’s nerve-wracking penalty shootout, the fall and fast-rise of Mo Farah in the 10000m final, Nicola Adams’s back-to-back golds in the boxing arena and Nick Skelton’s scarcely believable first gold medal in show jumping at the age of 58 in his seventh Olympic tournament.
Unfortunately, most of the country was in bed when the British were winning in the pool and on the track.
The time difference was one of the many things that seemed to conspire against Rio becoming a blazing triumph.
The truly historic moments – Phelps in the water or Usain Bolt thundering to his third gold in the 100m – occurred when most of the European continent had its lights out, while the American networks chose to broadcast many of the marquee events on delay.
So unlike other Olympics, huge swathes of the core audience either had to radically adjust their sleep patterns or catch up with events the next day, which is never the same.
The time zone seemed to trip up everyone, from Minister Shane Ross’s post-defeat good luck message to Ryan Lochte’s hazy and confused tale of what happened where and when on what was supposed to be a celebratory night out for the most Abercrombie-est members of America’s swimming team.
The Lochte business illuminated the essential daftness of the Olympics. What ought to have been just one of innumerable incidents of late-night dumb behaviour, the kind of stuff that goes on in every city across the world, briefly flared into an absurd diplomatic incident.
And then it vanished, much like the Olympics itself. By Sunday, which was dark and spitting, it felt like most people had already gone: that the USA and Serbian basketball players would show up for their final game to find a note with shower instructions and a request to turn out the lights.
The overriding sense was of a city just glad that the whole thing is over. And at least Brazil won the football.