Moving 2020 to 2021 leaves us with Olympic memories

Moving 2020 to 2021 leaves us with Olympic memories
Silver medallist John Treacy leads bronze medal winner Charlie Spedding of Great Britain during the Marathon event at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California during the 1984 Olympics. Picture: Tony Duffy/Getty

NEWS that the Tokyo Summer Olympics will be deferred until 2021 was not only disappointing for sports fans but starkly emphasised to us all that the coronavirus pandemic will not be resolved as early as we all hoped for when this all started.

This will be a long summer without sport, especially if we are still quarantined to our homes. Yet, it is another reason for us all to take the self-isolation guidelines seriously so that we can see the back of this scourage as soon as possible.

In lieu of an Olympics this year, we will be reduced to watching old Olympic clips on YouTube for our fix or projecting the highlights of previous Olympics on to the screen of our mind's eye, better known as memories. Here I recall early Olympics of my youth, while next week I'll look at more recent Olympiads.

The 1980 Olympics was the first Games I can recall actual events from. The boycott of the United States, along with several other western nations due to the USSR's invasion of Afganistan, made the Soviet Games in Moscow a tense and politicised crisis leading up to the opening ceremony. But, as it turned out, it was a highly enjoyable and competitive Games that was as much a feast for the eye as it was an example of sporting excellence.

A national school teacher of mine went to Moscow for the Games in what, at the time, we thought was an exciting and slightly dangerous excursion behind the Iron Curtain in the middle of the Cold-War.

The 1980 Games saw some extraordinary performances but the show was stolen by a diminutive middle-distance runner from Ethiopia named Miruts Yifter but better known as "Yifter The Shifter", for his spirit-breaking sprint finishes at the end of 10,000m.

His beaming smile won fans' hearts while the media delighted in the fact that no one knew, including Yifter it seems, his true age. His birthdate was put between 1938 and 1944. What was not in question was his class and he romped home to double gold in both the 5,000 and 10,000m to the delight of the fans.

1980 was also a good Olympics for Ireland with the rarely remembered David Wilkins and James Wilkinson claiming silver in the Flying Dutchman Class in of the shores of present-day Estonia. Their performance, on the periphery of the Games, never garnered the respect it deserved. Most of the nation's attention was on Belfast's Hughie Russell, who claimed a bronze medal at flyweight in the always dependable boxing ring for Ireland.

 Ireland's Paddy Barnes celebrates his bronze medal win on London 2012 with Hugh Russell, bronze medal winner at the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games, on his arrival home in Belfast, Co Antrim. 	Picture: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE
 Ireland's Paddy Barnes celebrates his bronze medal win on London 2012 with Hugh Russell, bronze medal winner at the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games, on his arrival home in Belfast, Co Antrim. Picture: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

The 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles saw the Soviets, and most of the Warsaw Bloc, take their revenge for the Moscow boycott by abandoning the American Games, this time because of America's invasion of Grenada.

Not that it mattered to the Yanks, who delighted in racking-in golds in the pool and on the track across LA.

The highlight of the Games for Ireland did not arrive until the very last day when a bony young man from Villierstown in Co Waterford bagged silver in the Marathon. I was visiting a friend in Tallaght in Dublin that night and as it was during our summer holidays, we stayed up all night to watch the final event of the Olympics.

John Treacy was known as a 10,000m runner and was not expected to feature in a Marathon well outside his comfort zone. But defying expectations and the sweltering heat of Southern California, the painfully spindly Treacy trundled into the stadium behind Carlos Lopes of Portugal who would claim gold. But the real battle was for silver with Britain's Charlie Spedding. The two vied for the placings in the final lap around the track but it was Treacy, despite looking the more exhausted of the two, who summoned the energy for one last amazing push. And with the epic commentary of Jimmy Magee ringing in our ears, myself and my friend jumped around their front room in delight.

In a moment of national pride and youthful exuberance, we grabbed a tricolour and ran out onto the streets of the estate to celebrate the 'win' only to be told in typical Dublin fashion by the neighbours what we could do with our celebrations at 4.30 am in the morning.

Canadian Ben Johnson (L) signals victory as he wins the men's 100 meters final to take the gold medal over American Carl Lewis (R) in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games in a world record time of 9.79 seconds.	 Picture: RON KUNTZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Canadian Ben Johnson (L) signals victory as he wins the men's 100 meters final to take the gold medal over American Carl Lewis (R) in the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games in a world record time of 9.79 seconds. Picture: RON KUNTZ/AFP/Getty Images)

I was in Toronto when the 1988 Seoul Olympics took place. The Irish did not claim a medal but it was not from the lack of trying, especially for the boxers who suffered from a few hometown decisions that hurt our chances.

I did, however, experience the hype for the 100m final that was obviously a colossal event in Canada as it featured the rivalry of Toronto's Ben Johnson and the US legend Carl Lewis, in what was billed the 'Greatest Race in History'.

The tension was immense on race night and when Johnson destroyed Lewis; there was an outpouring of joy in downtown Toronto that can only be comparable to our reaction during Italia 90.

Beating an American, for Canadians, is similar to us beating the English and while it was a splendid night in Canada, it did have an air of unbelievability, so exaggerated was Johnson's victory against a field full of amazing talent and ego. It was a similar air of disbelief that we sensed eight years later in Atlanta. but more of that later.

Of course, two days later the result of Johnson's drug test showed how unbelievable his victory really was. It was a crushing blow to Canadians when their moment of joy and bragging rights were whipped away from them so controversially.

It defined Johnson as the biggest cheat in sporting history, which was fair enough, but the subsequent revelations about the rest of the field, bar one, showed that Johnson was far from the only cheat on the track that day.

Nevertheless, that race did untold damage on the sport and worse still made us all a lot more cynical about the Olympic idea.

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