Rowers Fintan McCarthy and Paul O’Donovan. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Olympics not all positive for athletes

The Olympics has been on and I’ve tried to watch a fair bit.

I’m ‘fortunate’ that my son has been good enough to get me up around 6.30am each day so I’ve been up early enough to watch some events live.

But it’s a bit strange to be up early and find out that almost everything has taken place already. It’s hard to feel as engaged or connected with it when almost everything is over. Watching it knowing results is quite a different viewing experience to the live one.

I need all the sleep I can get so I’m not going to be waking up in the middle of the night for anything I think! The inimitable Skibbereen rower Paul O’Donavan had similar thoughts. RTÉ’s presenter Jacqui Hurley asked him what he would say to Irish people who are up in middle of the night watching him.

“Oh I'd say go to bed be to be honest. Don't mind watching us fools. There's a repeat on in the morning!”

Paul and his current partner Fintan McCarthy, and five years ago with his brother Gary demonstrated an unflappably relaxed approach to elite sport that was refreshing and exciting. Not everyone can approach it in such a grounded and healthy way however.

Elite sport brings huge pressures, often from the athletes themselves. There is huge pressure on O’Donavan and McCarthy as they are hot favourites for gold in the men's lightweight double sculls. The final was on at 1.50am Irish time this morning so hopefully the lads grabbed a medal!

Yesterday morning, Ireland won their first medal of the Tokyo Games when the Women’s Four of Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Cork’s Emily Hegarty won an Olympic bronze. It was some performance and congrats to them and their team.

Being hot favourites for an Olympic gold medal for a country that doesn’t win too many gold medals is a huge pressure. The rowers toil away in relative obscurity between Olympics, only to emerge blinking into the spotlight of public expectation. They may have spent years training with meagre funding, but now we expect them to perform at their best when the pressure is greatest.

Last week I read a piece about Simone Biles, how she was redefining her sport of gymnastics and that she might be the star of the Tokyo Games. It was a pretty persuasive piece although I don’t know much about her or her sport, she is clearly a huge star.

This week she attracted a huge amount of attention when she pulled out of the women's team final after one disappointing vault.

Biles said she was unsure whether she would compete on Thursday in the women's all-around event. She reported no physical injury but wanted to work on her mindfulness as she didn’t think she would be able to contribute to her team.

“After the performance I did I just didn't want to go on. We are going to see about Thursday. I'm just trying to gear up for the next test.”

Her honesty is as ground-breaking and highlights the unhealthy pressure so many athletes are under.

I hope she does what’s best for her. Her stance and bravery may prove more important than yet another Olympic gold medal.