The Rio Games: How was it for you?

From debutants to veterans, from hopefuls to heroes, we asked seven people for their reflections on the Olympic Games in Brazil...

Thomas Barr, 400m hurdler

The Olympics holds such prestige. It’s this extraordinary event and having come to the end of my first one, I can say is it’s been absolutely amazing. It’s like a little bubble, a little community, and it’s so cool to be a part of that. You see all these famous people from different sports in the athletes’ village, but when you step on the line for your event, it’s just the same guys you’ve raced so many times before.

I got massive cheers when my name was called out for the final, which was a surreal experience, and something I’m never going to forget. Before the race, I was very nervous because I kept telling myself that a medal was there for the taking and I was constantly replaying the last few races in my head, planning to do the very same thing. As soon as I got out of the blocks I forgot all about the nerves and just ran the race.

Six or seven weeks ago, I didn’t even know if I was going to make it here fit and ready, but there I was, just a few inches off a medal in the final. I came in with really haphazard preparation, but I left absolutely everything on the track and I’m thrilled with how it went.

Fourth is probably the best and worst place to come outside the medals, especially when I was so close, but I’ll take it. Running 47 seconds will put me on the map internationally, along with getting me into much better races. I’m going to take a huge amount from these championships, but for now, I’m looking forward to a break, and finally getting the Olympic tattoo. I think I’ve earned it.”

Cathal Dennehy, athletics journalist, covering his first Games

Always exhausting, occasionally exhilarating — that, in a nutshell, has been my 2016 Olympics.

It was my first Games as a journalist, and though I always abhor media members complaining about trivial annoyances in what is, to many, the dream job, the truth is far removed from the vision.

You spend a lot of time waiting — on buses, trains, mixed zones, or random street corners trying to find a taxi. Two hours we baked in the sun for a few minutes with Gary and Paul O’Donovan. Sixty minutes I waited for a hammer thrower who just broke the world record, only to find myself recording machine-gun Polish. While waiting, you talk to other journalists, shooting the breeze about who’s on drugs or criticising Irish athletes whose effort we can’t fully appreciate.

You eat in snatches, you sleep when you can, if you can.

One journalist at the marathon, in a room so crowded you could barely edge out elbow space, seemed to just give up on life and lay there, middle of the floor, face to the ground, asleep. That’s not unusual.

In many ways, being in the media is a dry run for life as a counsellor. Athletes walk through the mixed zone and the emotions are raw. For many, it’s either the best or worst moment of their lives.

You watch people cry then try to coax a critical analysis of their performance out of them, even though they often can’t explain what happened.

The moments that make it fulfilling are when you hit record and listen to a winner’s story, at least one you can believe in. It’s then you realise this sport, this game, is not just a waste of time. Far from it.

Sinead Jennings, lightweight women’s doubles sculls finalist

I enjoyed every minute of it.

From getting on the plane to getting asked for photographs on the way out to arriving in the village, getting to the rowing course and lining up against the best in the world. You know you’ve worked so hard to get there. It took me 16 years to get there and on the start line I thought of all of the people who had helped me get there — like my poor godmother Marie Kelly, who passed away last year. I’d love for her to have seen me there. I wanted to do my best to justify it.

The first race — the heat — was the nervous one. We had the South Africans who we’d never beaten before, and Brazil, who had the home crowd. It was good to get that out of the way and then in the semi we did perform well. The conditions were best and it was great to feel the boat going so well at the Olympics. We celebrated that.

We had a 24-hour delay twice and the impact there was the delay. Claire (Lambe) is a lot younger than me and it did get to her occasionally. We were staying away an hour and a half away on a bus from the course, so there was Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D.

The cancellation to the following day at least meant we could go back to the Olympic Village. It would’ve been lovely to bring home a medal. But we did as well as we could.

For me, I missed out on London in cycling and I thought the dream had died.

We had a second daughter but my husband Sam [Lynch, 1996 and 2004 Olympic rower] always said someone might come along to partner me in the doubles. That’s that happened with Claire. She’s been brilliant; she’s 13 years younger. I’ve had such fun rowing with Claire.”

Joanne Cantwell, RTÉ sports journalist and presenter

I used to think I loved sports journalism simply because I love sport. But it’s actually people who draw me in. The mental strength and passion required to reach the peak is something I don’t think most of us can comprehend. Sit in a studio for 16 days with the elite and you get a glimpse. In many ways, their minds don’t operate in the same way most of ours do.

Bernard Dunne, Michael Carruth and Mick Dowling weren’t just angry after Michael Conlan’s defeat; they were distraught – polite, intelligent and insightful, but distraught. Their reaction to Katie Taylor’s exit was one of sombre devastation, making it more apparent than ever to me this woman from Bray, quiet as she may be, is part of the life-force of Irish boxing.

Jerry Kiernan, one of the most passionate, caring and wilfully misunderstood sportsmen in the country, seemed almost ill watching Thomas Barr in the final of the 400m hurdles. They’re not necessarily directly involved themselves, but they know each individual and, more to the point, know the impact such global success would have on their sport and numbers partaking in it.

As if to prove the point — there was Neville. Neville Maxwell’s tears after the silver for Paul and Gary O’Donovan came as a surprise to even Neville himself. It was as if a fourth place finish in 1996 had been a weight keeping him and Irish rowing down, and he hadn’t realised just how important a medal was until the Lisheen boys crossed that line in second.

One of the greatest things about the Olympics is how we get introduced to different sports, but the mental toughness, the different-ness of the mind, there’s a similarity across the board.

From our recent world champion track-cyclist Martyn Irvine (whose contributions were some of the most informing and entertaining) to Eventer Aoife Clark (whose insight and natural tv-instinct were responsible for saving me during an unexpected and lengthy delay during the cross-country event), I’m fortunate in my job that I get to spend with the elite.

My task is to share some of their brilliance with everyone else.”

David Harte, Irish hockey captain

“The Olympic Games in Rio were everything and more

I had ever imagined. You cannot really comprehend the size of the organisation of such an event and then to be immersed in it. The athletes village is quite surreal. Hockey-wise, it is an experience I will never forget and it is certainly something I know that has inspired us as Irish hockey players and hopefully future players to consistently be present in major events like these.

Knowing we just lost out to gold medal winners Argentina [by a single goal in the last 10 minutes] proves we are on the right path. We have learned an awful lot about ourselves and thank all the Irish public and supporters for cheering us on in our five games.”

David Branigan, sailing writer

In the build-up to Rio, it was hard to ignore the hysteria over the various fears and reasons why not to attend the Games. For sure, there was some truth to it but the reality proved a worthwhile experience, especially when sailing came good and delivered a medal for Ireland at long last.

As it is winter in Rio – sunshine and blue skies with a comfortable 25 degrees or warmer daily – it was out of season for mosquitos and the dreaded Zika virus. Not one Mozzy spotted.

As for water-quality on the Guanabara Bay: no smell, no flotsam and blue in colour. It’s not potable but that didn’t stop Annalise Murphy jumping in after winning silver.

The food was wonderful and most tastes are catered for, especially meat-eaters although the strict conditions imposed on Olympic facilities means catering inside Marina da Gloria is limited to a concession stand that makes airline food taste like Ballymaloe’s finest.

And bringing your own lunch was frowned upon by security at our venue so evening meals were the highlight of the working day.

The city itself still retains beautiful if dilapidated buildings with public parks and open spaces lining the waterfront areas that give Rio it’s spectacular foreground.

Behind, in the distance the majestic steep-sided mountains that catch the setting sun provide the wide-angled backdrop – wide enough to also mask the crammed slum favelas that house an estimated 20 per cent of Rio’s population.

What is certainly an issue is the level of crime and paranoid levels of personal security.

For media covering the games, whether carrying thousands of euros worth of equipment or a straight- forward laptop, one theft means a world of hassle and not just missed-deadlines.

Numerous incidents have been reported, especially inside supposed restricted zones at the main Olympic site.

Neil Wilson, veteran Olympics writer

The only aspect of Rio’s Olympic Games that was crowded were its roads. Its arenas half empty, locals priced out of attending by tickets that cost them a week’s wages and deterred by the locating of an Olympic Stadium in an unsafe part of the city.

For all that there were memorable performances seen at least by the world’s television audiences.

You can talk about Usain Bolt and Mo Farah, or Michael Phelps and Simone Biles.

But for me the most memorable performances I witnessed were those that fulfilled Pierre de Coubertin’s original ideal that the Games were not about the winning but the taking part.

Two moments stand out, each candidates for the International Fair Play Committee that has been recognising the best in sporting conduct since 1965.

Both were on the athletics track. One came in the women’s 5000 metres heats. Nikki Hamblin, of New Zealand, was tripped and fell, bringing down Abbey D’Agostino, of the United States.

The American, far from complaining, helped the Kiwi to her feet, and later when D’Agnostino started limping and sat down, Hamblin stopped with her and comforted her.

“There was a hand on my shoulder saying like ‘get up, we have to finish this’ and I thought to myself ‘yes, this is the Olympics, we have to finish’,” said D’Agnostino. So they did, D’Agostino being carried away from the finish in a wheelchair.

Then there was the 100 metres hurdles semi-final in which Haitian Jeff Julmis crashed through the first hurdle, cart-wheeling towards the second. He was hurt and the other runners were long gone but he got to his feet, took a few steps back and started hurdling again. He finished finally in a time around 25 seconds, only to be disqualified for being outside his lane when he fell.

“It doesn’t make any sense to go down as a sore loser and walk off the track,” he said after he was applauded off at the finish.

Those will be my fondest memories of this Olympic Games.”

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