Brendan ‘Bubba’ Newby at the squad training base in Innsbruck, Austria. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Rebel trio to take on the world in Beijing 2022

Team Ireland is to send six athletes to the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, which starts in just over a week and the team has a real Rebel-tinted flavour with half the team boasting strong Cork links.

The Games will run from 4–20 February and this will be the eighth Winter Olympic Games for Team Ireland over thirty years and brings the total number of Irish Winter Olympians to just 33.

Beijing 2022 will see four of the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympians return, and they will be joined by two first time Olympians.

For the first time Ireland will have a three-time Winter Olympian compete, while it’s also the first time Team Ireland will compete in luge, and also the first time that the Winter Olympians attend a pre-games training camp.

The athletes with Cork links are Jack Gower (Alpine Skiing), Brendan ‘Bubba’ Newby (Cross Country Skiing) and Elsa Desmond (Luge).

Tess Arbez (Alpine Skiing), Thomas Maloney Westgaard (Cross Country Skiing) and Seamus O’Connor (Snowboard Halfpipe) complete the team with O’Connor competing at the Winter Olympics for a third time.

All three of the Leeside athletes have interesting stories.

Cork-born Brendan Newby, better known as Bubba, was born in Cork 25 years ago when his father Van, a professor of economics, spent two years teaching in UCC.

He competed in the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics, fulfilling a childhood dream he had since first watching the Olympics in Salt Lake City as a child. He will now be competing in Beijing as an even better skier, pulling his first ‘double’ in Austria in November.

Elsa Desmond is a true force of nature and will ensure Ireland compete in the luge for the first time ever. She set up the Irish Luge Federation herself in order to compete for Ireland.

The qualified medical doctor was targeting qualification for Milan 2026 but strong performances in the latter part of the season helped secure her name in history as Ireland’s first luge athlete. Her paternal grandmother is from Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan, and her grandfather is from Cork.

Desmond’s dad Brendan grew up in Fulham, but she said that “being raised by a dad who is Irish in so many ways, I always wanted to represent Ireland and help get more small nations into luge. Now we are growing the sport.”

Jack Gower’s paternal grandmother was born in Dublin and settled in Skibbereen and he is competing in his first Olympic Games. The former Junior World Champion for GB is set to compete in the Downhill, Giant Slalom, Super G and Alpine Combined events.

Home is Chichester but Gower’s late grandmother (her maiden name was Swayne) was born in Dublin and raised in Skibbereen where she met his grandfather. “He was visiting Cork with the British Navy and when they married they got posted to Chile. That’s where my dad was born but he and all my uncles and aunts spent their summers in Skibbereen.”

The Team Ireland athletes are currently at a pre-games camp in Innsbruck, where they are training from their base in Mutters. The camp offers an opportunity for the athletes to get to know each other and bond ahead of competition.

Team Ireland Chef de Mission Nancy Chillingworth praised the resilience of the athletes in the lead up to these Games. “The resilience and determination that these athletes displayed throughout the qualification process and throughout the challenges with which they were faced is a credit to them and we are very much looking forward to supporting them as they achieve their dreams in Beijing 2022.

“Throughout the past few years, due to Covid-19, athletes have endured changes to qualification pathways, experience cancelled qualification events, and have adapted their training on a continuous basis to ensure they could be as prepared can be. The fear of a positive test has peppered their journey, and yet still, their steely focus has been commendable.”

While Chillingworth and a small team have arrived in Beijing for set up, the athletes and the rest of the support team will travel out on 26 January. 6 February will see the first Irish athletes in action with Jack Gower competing in Downhill and Thomas Maloney Westgaard featuring in the 15km race.