You would think, at the age of 87, a man would be content to sit back and watch the Olympics on TV.
You would think, with all the hassle of travel, the threat of muggings, mosquitoes, that maybe this year’s Games might be unappealing to an old-age pensioner, regardless of how much he loved his sport.
If you think that, however, you probably don’t know Harry Gorman, the lifelong athletics fanatic who packed his bags for his 15th consecutive summer Olympic Games.
“Getting there is one thing, getting back alive is another,” says the Dubliner with a laugh. “I know there’s a lot of trouble, but there’s trouble everywhere you go. That wouldn’t stop me.” For 56 years now, nothing has stopped Harry Gorman attending the greatest show on earth.
Not the heat and altitude of Mexico City in ’68, the terror threat in Munich in ’72, the smog during Beijing 2008 or even the desperate scramble for tickets in London 2012. If there’s one thing he knows after all these years, it’s that things work out if you’re willing to embrace a little risk.
“I’ve gone to nearly all of them without tickets,” says Gorman. “It’s like every sport. They tell you it’s sold out, but once you get there you find a way. I’m lucky enough to know lots of officials, but I’m always willing to gamble because you’ll always bump into someone selling them. You’ve nothing to lose, everything to gain. That’s the way I look at it.” This time around, Gorman has bought tickets for all nine nights of athletics, the sport he has such an affinity for that he can recall with crystal clarity the day, 66 years ago, when the relationship first started.
“It was the 10th of February 1950,” says Gorman. “I joined an athletics club in Cabra and I’ve been running ever since. I’m a fanatic for athletics.” As an athlete, Gorman won national medals at every distance from two miles to the marathon, logging 120 miles a week at the peak of his career. Ever since stepping away from the sport competitively, he has been ever-present at events as an official, putting in the unpaid, unseen and often unappreciated work that keeps the wheels of Irish athletics in motion.
His first Olympic sojourn was in 1960, which he travelled to alone, but in later years he was joined by fellow friends and athletics nuts such as Sean Callan, Matt Rudden and the late Paddy Larkin.
Gorman thinks back to Moscow, 1980, how he approached it with such trepidation but ended up having the time of his life, thanks in no small part to the US boycott.
“Up until London, Moscow was my favourite,” he says. “Because of the boycott, we got to stay in the Americans’ hotel and ended up getting free bus transfers to the stadium every night and free tickets.”
And the standout moments from the last half century?
“Moments like John Treacy in Los Angeles and Sonia in Sydney are unforgettable,” he says.
“I have some great memories, but when the Irish get a medal it’s an absolutely wonderful time.” Earlier this year, shortly after officiating at the national cross country championships, Gorman came down with a vicious infection that kept him bed-ridden for several days. In the aftermath, his doctor did his best to put the brakes on, encouraging Gorman to shorten his daily 5km walks and take life a little easier. Aware that he was getting on, even his family encouraged him to give this Olympics a miss.
Gorman listened to their advice, understood fully where it was coming from, then booked his flight to Rio regardless.
“I’m going to make it a good one, because I’d say it’ll be my last,” he says. “My family tried to talk me out of it, but I’m well capable of getting there and back. If you put all the obstacles in the way, you wouldn’t go anywhere and you wouldn’t enjoy life either. That’s the approach I’ve always taken and I’m happy as a lark.”
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