The opening ceremony at the Rio Games is still over two weeks away but the 2016 Olympics got very real for the boxing and hockey squads who formed a sizable Team Ireland vanguard flying out to South America yesterday.
The squads presented two very different sides of the same coin.
Though both dressed in standout green livery, the boxers boarded Lufthansa flight 981 accompanied by a heavy weight of expectation given medal hauls in Beijing and Athens. It will be Craig Fulton’s hockey team looking to punch above its weight.
Zaur Antia insisted the hopes of a nation will make for a light load.
“We deal with expectation with our focus and our plan,” said boxing’s head coach. “We have to do what we have to do. We have a good squad, good fighters. We know how to deal with pressure. Everybody has pressure. This is life. You deal with this.”
Antia’s squad will be based in the host city’s Brazilian Naval Academy for the next two weeks, along with a number of other Olympic squads that will include the hosts and the USA.
Fulton’s team will make first for Buenos Aires and a camp that includes two matches with an Argentina side that will provide the opposition in one of their five Group B ties at the Games in Brazil next month. Ireland is sending its biggest ever presentation to an Olympics Games this time and one with live medal hopes in a number of sports other than boxing. Olympic Council of Ireland chief executive Stephen Martin is confident a profitable two weeks lie in wait.
“You look at Athens, zero (medals), Beijing, three and then London, six. There is a bit of momentum there,” said Martin.
“The target for the Sports Council is three medals but we as a nation are always looking to try and improve on that. For a population our size, and with the numbers playing Olympic sports, four to six medals at each Games is achievable. It’s not just about medals either.”
The storm over Russian doping allegations has already cast a shadow over the XXI Olympiad which kicks off with the opening ceremony at the Maracana Stadium on August 5, though Martin is focusing matters closer to home, so to speak.
“From our perspective, there is no impact,” he said of the controversy and any potential decision. “Our focus is on the team and to let the IOC and the agencies involved deal with that sort of thing.”
Meanwhile, golfer Stephanie Meadow has been added to the Irish team for Rio. Her inclusion brings the Irish representation to 77 from 13 sports.
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