Tralee shines in historic Olympic Athens
The 20 children who represented Tralee in swimming, athletics and soccer at this year’s International Children’s Games in Athens, from June 23-28th, returned last week with a deep sense of pride in their own pathens1_400erformances and a keen awareness of the historical impact of the city of Athens on the cultural, philosophical and political aspects of life, right down to our own day. In particular these young athletes became aware of the influential athletic festivals which gave rise to the Olympic spirit and ideal. It all provided an appropriate backdrop to what was a wonderful week of international athletic events and games, played in the spirit of true sportsmanship in the beautiful sunshine of Greece.
Tuesday June 23rd:
The Tralee delegation arrived in Athens on Tuesday 23rd at 10.00pm local time and within minutes one of the team members was whisked away by security personnel for medical assessment! Jonathan Hanafin, captain of the soccer team, displayed high temperature levels on the airport monitoring system, specifically designed to detect possible swine flu. He was immediately taken in hand by an airport nurse and doctor, and with a protective mask over his face, underwent some tests which proved inconclusive. The resulting actions saw Jonathan taken to hospital, staying overnight in complete isolation, undergo further tests, and finally released the following evening at tea time, with a clean bill of health. Luckily for Jonathan, both of his parents – Phil and John – were present at the Games and were able to comfort him through what was a quite worrying ordeal and situation. He went on to play in all 3 matches for Tralee, getting stronger in every game. One has to say that the airport personnel and the hospital staff were excellent throughout and also that the awareness of the dangers of the swine flu and possible infection was at a very high level within the Greek community and authorities.
Wednesday June 24th:
The action began early on Wednesday with the athletes rising at 5 am Irish time (7am in Greece) to begin competition at the athletic track at 9.00am. Danny Pierce led the way with excellent high jumping to finish 9th of 17 in the overall classification, with a clearance of 1.55m, to qualify for the final. The heats of the 100m followed and in heat 7 of 8, Eoin O Carroll announced his arrival with a PB of 11.65 to win his heat and make the semi final. Brian Barry finished a creditable third in his heat in 12.65, a time which did not qualify him for the Semis. In the girls 800m Clare Brennan and Una Marley performed to their best in a strong field of 56 runners, to finish in the top 30 overall.
The soccer team were down to play Karachi of Pakistan at 11.00am, but regrettably, despite Tralee waiting over an hour, and officials trying to establish their whereabouts, Karachi failed to appear. Subsequently it transpired that their goalkeeper had to be rushed to hospital that morning with a bad leg injury and the team withdrew from the competition.
The Opening Ceremony took place at the Kalimarmaro Stadium later in the evening at 21:00 pm. This stadium, built completely of white marble, stands on the actual site of the first modern Olympiad of 1896. Its history however dates back even further to the old Panathenian Games of antiquity and a more fitting setting could not have been found on a beautiful balmy evening, under a clear blue sky, for a majestic opening ceremony, which included a wonderful performance from a choir of about 150 children, a full scale and very powerful orchestra, a gymnastic and dance display and the presentation of each team to the assembled spectators. All of this in the shadow of the Illuminated Acropolis reaching up into the night sky! Truly it will linger long in the memory.
Thursday June 25th:
In the High Jump Louise O Connor and Laura Lynch performed exceptionally well. Laura cleared 1.40m –just outside a final place - and Louise 1.45m, which took her to the final in 7th place. Both girls also ran superbly in the 100m heats with Louise winning hers to reach the semis and Laura finishing 4th in the fastest heat of the day in a personal best time, and unlucky not to advance. In the boys long jump Brian Barry produced his PB but missed out on a place in the final while Eoin O Carroll qualified for the final, lying in third place overall.
The soccer squad finally got into action against Bangkok, but were slow to start and paid the penalty, going in at the break 4-0 down! They got their act together in the second half however and rallied strongly, pressurising their opponents all over the pitch, forcing turnovers and scoring great goals, before finally going down 6-5 to the eventual semi-finalists. Darragh Carmody with a hatrick, Aaron Eager and Sean Moloney were the Tralee scorers in that fight-back, with Gearoid Clifford and Adam Kelly also to the fore. The game against the reigning champions, Plock of Poland, on the following day, had just become a must win game.
The swim team, who had trained at the pool on Wednesday, went into action at 9:00am. Laura O Shea and Aisling Dwyer both produced personal best times in the 100m backstroke of 01: 20.38 and 01: 19.30 respectively, but failed to advance to the semis. Brian O Sullivan (01:09.95) finished a very creditable 15th in a field of 30 and Michael o Sullivan (01:10.34) finished 25th in the boys 100m backstroke. Michael was again in action in the 100m butterfly shortly afterwards and performed inside his personal best time in a very strong field.
Friday June 26th:
The swimmers were back in action today, with Aisling Dwyer in the 100m Freestyle, where, in a time of 01:07.00 she finished 25th of 50 swimmers, with Laura O Shea further down the field in a personal best time. The experience of these Games will definitely stand to these two young swimmers at next year’s Games in Manama, Bahrain.
The soccer team faced Plock in a determined mood, and from the opening minute Plock knew they were in a game. Tralee, led superbly by Jonathan Hanafin and Gearoid Clifford at the back, took the game to their opponents and dominated possession, creating two great chances in the first 10 minutes, for Niall Sheehy and Darragh Carmody, but both were saved superbly by their goalkeeper. Plock scored with their first real chance in the 12th minute, with a hint of offside. Nevertheless Tralee continued to impress but couldn’t make the breakthrough their efforts deserved. Michael Wrenn, Sheehy Eager and Moloney all went close in an all action second half, which also saw Pa Fitzgibbon pull off two excellent saves at the Tralee end, but it was not to be. Tralee went out of qualifying with a game to play, but heads and heart were high after a fantastic display.
In their final game later that day they again lost by one goal -4-3 – to Marion, Indiana. Both teams were looking for their first group win and were tied at three all with two minutes remaining. The American team displayed that little bit extra desire to clinch victory with a late goal. The Tralee scorers were Niall Sheehy, Adam Kelly and Michael Wrenn.
On the athletic track the tension was rising. Eoin O Carroll finished 4th in his 100m SF and narrowly failed to make the final. Next up Louise o Connor also narrowly failed to make the final by a mere .01 second, and then focused on the High Jump final where she finished 7th overall, unable to go clear at 1.50m. The story of this evening, however, was Eoin O Carroll and what might have been! Lying in third, he produced a first jump of 6.00m to take the lead! The Tralee contingent at the Games, numbering 18 parents and family members along with the athletes and coaches, were ecstatic, cheering loudly–well screaming actually! On his second jump disaster struck. Eoin regrettably pulled a hamstring and was never able subsequently to improve on that magnificent first jump. It was good enough to take him into the reduced final six in third place but he was eventually caught to finish in 5th place overall, behind a worthy winner from Bejing, who jumped 6.18m. Once again, Tralee had competed with distinction in Track and Field at these Games and one hopes that continued involvement will bring due success and reward.
Saturday June 27:
Saturday was finals day in most competitions and with Tralee’s participation now concluded the delegation visited the famous site of the Acropolis in the morning. This was truly remarkable and will not be forgotten: ancient buildings of 2,500 years ago dedicated to their goddess Athena, breathtaking views of the city, temples, theatres and arenas all bearing testimony to the magnificent culture and civilisation that was Athens. Later that day the closing ceremony took place with the passing of the ICG flag to next year’s hosts, Manama, Bahrain, followed by a live music performance and disco for the 1700 children of the 90 cities represented at the games. It was a fitting end to a great week of activity.
The remaining days were spent enjoying the city, the beach and the islands. The cruise to the three islands of Aegina, Poros and Hydra on Monday, June 29th was truly remarkable and most enjoyable. On Tuesday the Irish ambassador in Athens, Antoin Mac Unfraidh received the athletes and parents at the Irish embassy, where he welcomed everyone and explained the functions of an Irish embassy to a receptive audience. Afterwards all shopping requirements were met at the Mall – the largest shopping centre in Athens – before departure from the airport at 22:25pm, returning to Tralee at 06:00 am on Wednesday, July 1st, tired but enriched by the whole experience of wonderful Games in a truly historic and beautiful city. The total number who travelled from Tralee, athletes, parents and coaches was 45.
Participation and Hosting: The Future
This marks Tralee’s 5th consecutive appearance at the Games, with over 100 children now having experienced the excitement of the largest multi sport youth event in the world. This participation will continue next year in Bahrain, but the long term goal of Tralee ICG is to host these Games in Tralee by 2015. According to chairman Mike Culloty 2015 is still a realistic objective:
“It is true that the current economic climate may well deny us the use of some facilities which had planned completion dates of 2015, but nevertheless we remain convinced of the capacity of Tralee and Kerry to host this event. We are aware that the Executive of the ICG are supportive of our efforts to bring the Games to Ireland for the first time and we will let no stone unturned in our efforts to bring this about” he said. “Tralee ICG will shortly be commissioning a feasibility study which will provide the basis for a future submission to Government for financial support and approval, prior to the presentation of our bid to host the Games to the International Children’s Games Committee in 2012”.
He outlined plans for a major fundraising event later this year to help meet the costs of the Feasibility Study, and Mike Culloty is confident of the support of the local community and businesses:
“The city of Athens has just experienced the effect of 1,700 athletes from 90 cities worldwide, with 2,500 coaches, city representatives, parents and family members – 45 coming from Tralee alone. The fact is that the impact of such an influx of people into the local economy here would be of much greater benefit than in a city like Athens. I think we can provide a great experience for competitors, visitors and locals alike and I believe that the support for this venture, which puts Tralee and Kerry on a worldwide map, will be forthcoming”.
Eoin O Carroll, Brian Barry, Danny Pierse, Laura Lynch, Clare Brennan, Una Marley, Louise O Connor,
Aisling Dwyer, Brian O Sullivan, Laura O Shea, Michael O Sullivan.
Jonathan Hanafin, Adam Kelly, Gearoid Clifford,Michael Wrenn, Aaron Eager, Darragh Carmody, Sean Moloney, Niall Sheehy, Patrick Fitzgibbon.