The Olympic dream begins to take shape

 

WHEN the French educationalist Baron Pierre de Coubertin dared to live out his dream and founded the modern Olympic movement in the latter part of the 19th century, he envisaged a Games where the spirit was one of competing as much as winning.

One hundred years later, how things have changed. Now, it is an achievement merely to make it to the Olympic Games at all.

`A ticket to participate at this year's sporting highlight will be handed only to the world's elite athletes, with strict qualifying criteria in operation right across the board from archery to fencing, never mind the glamour sports of track and field, swimming and boxing.

The idea of someone going along just to share in the Olympic dream is dead and buried. The only Irish sports persons who will savour the atmosphere not to mention the humidity.

of Atlanta will be those who have proved themselves worthy of competing on the world stage.

The break up of the Soviet Union is one reason for the new qualifying criteria, forcing the European Championships in various sports (including boxing, wrestling and weight lifting), or even World Championships (cycling), to double as Olympic qualifying tournaments.

Already, there have been "hard luck stories from some Irish competitors in their quest to make it to Atlanta, such as Ireland's top table tennis player, Colum Slevin. Based in Germany, Slavin devoted his season to making the Olympics but the day before the European championships be developed shingles. End of dream.

But the Olympic dream lives on for others. While Mark Little, who has been confirmed for the Laser class, is the sole Irish yachtsman guaranteed to make the trip, there is considerable optimism that the Irish sailing party could number 12 in seven disciplines by the time all the qualifying events take place. "We could end up with our biggest team ever," said Patrick Boyd, general secretary of the Irish Sailing Association.

Of course, the biggest section in the Irish contingent will be track and field athletes," with Sonia O'Sullivan representing the best hope of a track medal. The IAAF has set `A' standards, which guarantee an Olympic place, while anyone who meets the `B' standard is likely to be included if no one from their country has made the `A' standard.

But with almost four months to go before the qualification cut off for track and field events, the athletics contingent is likely to swell javelin thrower Terry McHugh (a mere 94 cm short of the `A' standard) and 400 metres hurdler Tom McGuirk, are two examples of athletes with the `B' standard and plenty of time to make the `A'.

There are also those who have made the `A' standard but live in wait. For example, four Irish women have made the 5 000 metres standard but only three can compete. O'Sullivan Catherina McKiernan, Sinead Delahunty and Marie McMahon have all qualified and either Delahunty's or McMahon's participation will likely depend on McKiernan opting solely for her favoured 10,000 metres.

Equestrianism holds out great hopes this year.

Ireland will be represented in show jumping, dressage and three day eventing the names of Peter Charles, Eddie Macken and Capt John Ledingham give a magical ring to their quest for glory.

Then there is rowing, a sport which has promised to deliver. medals down the years remember Sean Drea and, more recently, Niall O'Toole? and which will definitely have Irish representation in the form of a double sculls. Who will row, though hasn't been decided.