There were, of course, other shows on telly last week – like the infernal soap operas. But even the gals at home forsook them for the ‘citius-altius-fortius’ syndrome. So I bestow double blessings on great athletes like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Mo Farah and Andy Murray.
However, the object of this Olympics eulogy isn’t to pay homage to the predictable ‘greats’ of track, field, tennis court and swimming pool (field and pool are often the same emerald hue in Rio). Let us praise those who came through against the odds, without having untold riches thrown their way – like the mighty dollar and mighty sterling. Although sterling isn’t just as mighty in the wake of Brexit.
Let’s turn the focus on the exploits of the gold medal Fijian sevens rugby men and the silver oarsmen brothers of Ireland, Paul and Gary O’Donovan. Both teams have gained the affection of the sporting world with their pure joie-de-vivre and their pure joie-de-sport. Fiji hadn’t won a medal in their Olympic history, never mind gold. They were regarded as the potential world’s top rugby sevens nation, throwing the ball about with carefree abandon, but without much strategy.
Enter coach Ben Ryan (a Brit) who combined their ‘what-the-hell’ attitude with discipline. And hey-presto they were in the final. They annihilated GB to the tune of 43-7 in a game as one-sided as Pussy the Kitten taking on Shere Khan, the nasty old tiger from Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’. It was a piece of cake.
Not only did they strike gold with panache, but they celebrated like none before them. Their captain Osea Kolinsau led his men in a hymn of praise and in prayer, with Fiji being a deeply religious (Methodist) country. I’m sure the social media police (who get themselves in a lather over religion and cakes) weren’t too happy. And when the Princess Royal draped the medals over their necks, each player bowed and knelt in respect, clapped three times in a Fijian greeting and said the word ‘Mathe’ as a sign of unity. (The social media police are reported to have had a breakdown!)
Meanwhile, back home in the South Pacific, the population went bananas - a public holiday was declared. And after gold was struck, the entire team took themselves to McDonald’s, gulping down everything from Big Macs to Chicken McMuffins (with egg).
Then came the O’Donovans - the lads from Skibbereen - with their silver-tongue ripostes and their silver medals. Their distinctive South Cork accents and their hilarious answers endeared them to everyone. These boyos don’t get paid, having interrupted their studies to train for months and years in the fabled Skibbereen Rowing Club.
Here’s a sample of their wit – “Strategy? It isn’t too complex really, just go from A to B as fast as you can, close the eyes and pull like a dog… Mick Conlan said he’d box the head off us if we didn’t get the gold… I’d say we will have to suss out a drop of poteen around Brazil to calm his (coach Dominic Casey’s) nerves for the final.”
I’ve never been to Skibbereen (pop 2,600) but I have happy impressions of the Cork coastal village. My late father was a pigeon man and used to send his homing birds to Skibbereen races, and they won once or twice.
I remember, as a child, asking him where the place was, and he’d tell me “On the southern tip of County Cork” And with his fine tenor voice, he’s burst into the old Potato Famine lament ‘The Reason Why I left Old Skibbereen’. He knew every word of the four verses!
I suppose it could be deemed a ‘Rebel’ song (search it on You Tube). Dad was a devout Presbyterian and – with a twinkle in his eye - he used to assure his dear, impressionable little son that the Presbyterians were in at the genesis of Irish Nationalism!