Treacy glad to be back in ‘happy hunting ground’ of LA

Athlete says his last time in LA coliseum was very different from Special Olympics opening

Olympic medallist John Treacy said the last time he passed through the LA Coliseum tunnel into the famous stadium - before Saturday's opening ceremony at the Special Olympics - things were very different.

Treacy walked into the stadium with the 88 athletes representing Ireland at the nine-day Special Olympics World Games in front of a crowd of 62,338 people at Saturday's opening ceremony.

At the 1984 Olympics Treacy had "500m of a tussle" with British athlete Charlie Spedding coming through the tunnel in 30 degree heat after running 26 miles before the Waterford man beat him to take silver in the marathon.

“The last time I went through the coliseum tunnel I was knackered,” he told The Irish Times.

“In 1984 I was trying to drop Spedding before I came into the stadium and I had a battle on my hands. Last night it was nice to walk in with all the Special Olympic athletes.”

He called Los Angeles a “happy hunting ground” for him given his silver medal finish in 1984 and his LA Marathon win here in 1992.

“I had trouble getting up on the podium after the marathon in 1984,” he said. “I literally couldn’t have gotten another inch out of my body. My body seized up afterwards. It was nice to walk away from the finish line this time as opposed to being helped away.”

Giving everything

Treacy said the Irish athletes at the LA games this week would go through the same experience competing as he went through in 1984. “Like anything they will be nervous to get the best out of themselves and they will give it absolutely everything,” he said.

“Whatever happens, they will celebrate the result, they will pick each other up, and there will be lots of hugging.”

The 88 Irish athletes in the Special Olympics are representing more than 9,300 in Ireland who trained with the aim of making the games.

"The athletes here feel the pressure," said Matt English, chief executive of Special Olympics Ireland. "They are very conscious when they put on that jersey that they are are representing their countries."

The number of people with intellectual disabilities participating in sport in Ireland stands at about 30 per cent, which is well above of the 2 per cent average internationally but below 47 per cent for the general population in Ireland

“Can we do more? Of course we can do more and we won’t stop until everyone who wants to do it can do it,” said Mr English.

“We are way ahead of other countries. It takes a lot to add an extra new sport. Running Special Olympics is not over-complicated but it has complications that other sports don’t have. Funding is critical.”

The Irish Special Olympics badges that the athletes wear are hot property in the busy trade that the athletes from all 77 countries at the games engage in. A number of athletes could be seen trading already on the fringes of Saturday’s star-studded opening ceremony.

“The Ireland team will just grow in popularity over the week,” said Mr English. “Irish people just have that impact here. Once they get into the semifinals and finals, most neutrals will support Ireland. The Irish athletes appreciate as the week goes on.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent