Even if you have no interest in the sport or even little understanding of why someone would step into a ring and voluntarily have somebody else do their damnedest to hurt you for eight or nine minutes, you have probably still found it hard not to have been impressed by the way that Katie Taylor et al in the Irish boxing team have lifted the sprits of the nation over the past week.
Whether it be gold, silver or bronze that they bring home, each of the four boxers who have made the podium will be greeted as heroes by the vast majority of the population when they arrive back to Dublin airport in the next few days.
The same probably won’t be said for the first Irish Olympian to actually get a medal around his neck this week. Show jumper Cian O’Connor and his mount Blue Loyd 12 may have come within only 200th of a second from jumping off for a gold medal, and the slightest of touches from bringing home a sliver medal. But for a lot people the spectre of Athens, eight years ago and what happened after is something he will not ever shake off. O’Connor’s route from not even making the Irish team and then missing out on the final, and eventually coming home with a medal, is a great tale in itself, but whether he should even be allowed to have been there is something that divides opinions.
This time eight years ago, to the vast majority of people in Ireland Waterford Crystal was an expensive line of glassware that was locked away in a press not to be used, unless maybe the Pope himself called to visit. But since the Athens Olympics it also brings back memories of drugs, doping, and gold medals being stripped and shame for the nation. While the authorities have said it was not an intentional doping offence and it was not actually a performance ehancting drug, it still broke the rules and O’Connor paid the price. That price was a three-month ban and being stripped of his gold medal. While a certain amount of ‘cheating’ or ‘gamesmanship’ will be tolerated in sports to gain a competitive advantage, the one thing that is not tolerated in sports is doping. It can ruin the image of a whole sport and the honest efforts of all those involved init.
You just have to look at image of professional cycling and the beating it has taken over the past few years, thanks to the numerous drugs scandals. Even the blue ribbon event of Olympics track and field the 100m had a shadow over it with Justin Gatlin finishing up with a bronze medal after he served a four-year ban for testing positive for a banned substance from 2006 to 2010 and coming back to run in last Sunday’s Olympic final. While he did not make the final of the 100m, the effort that the British Olympics team went too to try and keep Dwaine Chambers out of the competition, before they were told their life-time Olympic ban was illegal shows the disdain that people have for doping.
Cian O’Connor has served his time, taken the shame that went with it, and came back, his medal is as valid as that of anybody else at these games. But will it be remembered as fondly as Taylor, Conlon, Barnes or Nevin in the future, probably not. But that will also have a bit to do with the Olympic oath that is sworn by one athlete on behalf of all athletes at the opening ceremony.
“In the name of all the competitors I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, committing ourselves to a sport without doping and without drugs, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.”