Russia was a marvelous experience for all
The Tralee international Children's Games teams returned to Tralee on Monday last after a wonderful experience of Moscow and Ufa and the 53rd International Children's Games. By general consensus the Games were exceptionally well organized in Ufa, where the facilities were superb for all events and included a newly built Swimming and Athletic Complex especially for the Games. The Tralee athletes performed to the high standards of which they are capable, and while no medals were brought home from Russia, the experience of this level of competition will stand to the athletes going forward.
Tralee departed on July 6th by bus to Dublin airport for a late night flight to Moscow, arriving at Shermetevo airport at 5:00 am local time, where they spent about an hour passing through immigration control. It was an experience and thankfully all went well! There were many highlights in the opening two days in Moscow and certainly many have come away with a new understanding and appreciation of Russia and its people, such was the cleanliness of Moscow and Ufa, the disarming friendliness of the people and efforts made by volunteers, staff and locals to make us feel welcome and help us in every way possible.
Leaving the airport, the team arrived at and walked through Red Square with its well known iconic buildings such as the Kremlin, St Basil's Cathedral, Lenin's Mausoleum and so many more architecturally stunning buildings. To be there was simply surreal; so many images of the Kremlin and nearby symbols of Russia, young and old, flashed through the mind's eyes as we took in the real. Nina, our guide, was exceptional, relating many of the significant events in the country's history and in particular Red Square and its buildings so familiar down the years. Nina then led us on a tour of the exquisite and beautifully adorned Metro stations of Moscow, all of which tell the story of the Russian people, their way of life and the tragedies of the wars of their history. The underground system was used as bomb shelters during WW2, as hospitals, treatment rooms and, incredibly, we learned that over 200 babies were born in the Metro underground during the war! The team returned to Red Square on Monday for further exploration and shopping, walked over the hanging bridge with its wonderful views of the city and finished the day in Gorki Park, where a Volleyball tournament was held with parents and coaches and athletes all joining in the light hearted and enjoyable fun.
On Tuesday at 11am the team was back on its way to the airport for the two hour flight to Ufa, two hours ahead of Moscow and 4 hours ahead of local Tralee time. On arrival in Ufa the team was greeted by the Ufa officials and volunteers and taken to their hotel accommodation, as were the supporters. Training sessions were held on Wednesday for all teams and on that night all attended the Opening Ceremony for a display of Bashkir culture in music, song and dance in traditional costumes that would be hard to surpass anywhere, before a crowd of over 8,000 at the Ufa Arena, home to the Salavat Ice Hockey team.. It is always a source of pride to see a team from Tralee representing Ireland enter the Arena at this International Sporting and Cultural event. The Games were officially opened by President ICG, Torsten Rasch, after a letter from President Putin congratulating all athletes and organizers for hosting the event in Ufa, was read to the participants and attendants.
On Thursday Tralee ICG athletes went into action. On the track Melissa Ahern produced a top class performance in her heat to finish second , and qualified as one of the fastest losers for the semi finals on the following day, where she ran brilliantly again to finish 6th. She is a young athlete who will develop to very high levels should her focus remain on performances on the track. Alison Butler in the 800m ran an excellent first 400 but as the pace heated up coming down the back straight, tired visibly and failed to advance to the semis. Lisa Cassidy later in the day in the 400m also failed to advance but again ran up to near personal best times, as did Alison. Bobby Byrne in the 100m was travelling like a train when suddenly and without warning literally collapsed on the track with a serious muscle/tendon/ bone tear, which required medical attention and a visit to the hospital A and E department. It will take a bit of time to heal but it will heal in that time. The doctors were very thorough and checked on Bobby again the following day. Our best wishes go to Bobby for a full recovery. In the shot put, Aine O Shea performed extremely well in spite of a delayed arrival at the track due to traffic congestion, which robbed her of a proper warm up. Overall these young athletes turned in very satisfactory performances, and the whole experience will stand to them positively in the years ahead when they stand on the starting line for any competition.
The soccer team faced Vevey of Switzerland in their opening game on a sweltering hot day at Ufa FC football stadium, where this year Glasgow Rangers defeated Ufa in European competition. Vevey were stronger from the start and came close a few times before their first goal after 10 mins. They went 2 up midway through the second half after a defensive mix up, but to their credit Tralee battled back with a goal from Kalvin O Sullivan, with about 7 minutes to go. The killer goal-the best goal of the game- came with two minutes remaining and Tralee went down 3-1. Odhran Ferris and Cormac Dillon were superb all through, and but for the heroics of Richard Healy in goal the margin would have been greater.
Game two was against Samos of Greece-the home of Pythagoras-he of the famous theorem-who had also lost their opening game. In an exciting game, it was the Greeks who came out on top, boosted by an early goal against the run of play. Undaunted, the boys in green battled back, and began to control possession for long periods, but with no reward. Samos scored again early on the resumption, before Odhran Ferris unleashed a pile driver to make it 2-1. Pressing hard for the equalizer, Tralee just couldn't find the net despite hitting the post 4 times. Samos scored on a breakaway and almost immediately Cormac Dillon finished neatly to the net after a through pass from Alex Hoare. The final score remained 3-2 despite the best efforts of Ray Mc Grath, Kalvin and Hennigan. The final game was against Sentjil of Slovenia and again Tralee went down 3-1, with the Tralee goal coming from Yago Cornide, just before half time.
Vevey and Sentjil finished third and fourth overall, so it was a tough group for this young teams, playing against much stronger teams physically. Over the three games Tralee had outstanding performances from Alex Hoare, Richard Healy, Odhran Ferris and Cormac Dillon. Cormac, Richard and Alex Hennigan had the opportunity to play in the Football for Friendship game against a Gazprom selection and acquitted themselves very well in the victory over the home side. It was an occasion to remember for all involved under the Football for Friendship programme, sponsored and organized by Gazprom, the Ufa oil and gas company
The Judo team of 4-three boys and one girl- all had their fights on Thursday and first onto the mat-always a nervous occasion- was Jack Costello who faced a very tough Russian fighter. Jack defended well and with great determination but eventually was thrown for Ippon and lost his first bout. Next up was Kristin Lyne, also drawn against a Russian and he was defeated with a hold down after a hard two minute bout. Stephen Palmer was drawn against an Israeli opponent and suffered the same fate as Jack Costello, being thrown for Ippon. Last but not least to enter the fray was Donna Rogers, again against a Russian. Despite her best efforts she also was thrown for Ippon. Jack, Donna and Stephen got back into the second round but again to no avail. While there was obvious disappointment with the results, nevertheless the team is very young and giving a year to their opponents here. The experience will help prepare them for better days in the future.
The teams involved this year will have gained much, according to Mike Culloty, Chairman, Tralee ICG. ''It was a big decision to go to Ufa with this young team and for me they played to their full potential, gave of their very best, which is all that is expected of them. They will have learned much for their performances against more seasoned opponents, from the excellent facilities and event organization in which they performed and from the whole international flavor experienced for the first time. They were all tremendously well behaved, kind and courteous to all and totally committed to giving of their best in a true sportsmanlike fashion. In my view they were a credit to their families and communities throughout the competition and represented us all with pride and integrity. Apart from their own competitions and performances all of the delegation will remember the people we met at the Games, the friendliness and helpfulness of the people of Moscow and Ufa, and the newly formed opinions and understandings of Russian customs, cultures and history''.
Tralee ICG wish to express their appreciation to all coaches-Dearbhail Foley, Robin O Day, John Byrne, and Danny Roche, to the Head of Delegation Paula Henry, to all the supporters who travelled to Russia to support the children, and to everyone who helped make participation possible for these young athletes at this year's International Children's Games.
Mar a deirtear I gconai, mol an oige agus tiocfaidh siad!