Experience of a lifetime at Bangkok Games for Tralee Children
The travelling party of 44 children, coaches and parents- that departed Tralee on Monday night August 22nd at 3.30 am to attend the International Children’s Games in Bangkok could never have envisaged the momentous sporting and cultural occasion it would turn out to be, nor indeed appreciate in advance what a thrilling and fantastic experience it would prove for all participants.
Tralee was represented in three disciplines at the Games: Athletics, Swimming and Basketball. From the outset it was obvious that the heat and the humidity would seriously affect performance but despite this the Tralee teams acquitted themselves with pride, determination and distinction.
Arriving in Bangkok airport on Wednesday –Aug 24th- morning at 6.00 am local time, the team received a cead mile fáilte from their Thai hosts that would rival the best of our own Failte traditions, each child receiving, among many things, an orchid corsage, the symbolic flower of Thailand. From there the delegation were bussed to their hotel rooms at the Imperial Queens Park and promptly collapsed on their beds for a couple of hours of much wanted sleep. The latter part of the day was spent familiarising the delegation with competition venues, arrangements for travel and games schedules.
Thursday morning –Aug 25th-began early with coaches meetings outlining schedules, making some minor changes, agreeing procedures and presenting each coach with a souvenier Gold medal of the Games. Training was arranged for each team and the Tralee athletes had their first training sessions in Thailand at 3.00pm, on the track, in the pool and in the superb air conditioned basketball arena. Following dinner at the stadium the children were taken to an outdoor market in Bangkok later that evening, an event thoroughly enjoyed by all.
Friday Aug 25th:
Serious competition was due to begin for the basketball team at 8:00am against Kamasi from Ghana. The team was disappointed to learn, shortly after their arrival in the hall, that the Ghanaian flight had been delayed and the game was awarded to Tralee on a 20-0 scoreline.
Later that Friday evening the opening ceremony provided all athletes and delegates with an unforgettable experience of colour, pageantry, music song, dance and firework displays as well as the formal opening of the Games, and the lighting of the flame, by the Royal Princess of Thailand, the Governor of Bangkok and Mr Thorsten Rasch, President of the ICG. The two hour spectacle was electric throughout, with the marching of the teams into the stadium a particular highlight and source of pride for all parents. Afterwards, as all participating teams were enjoying dinner at the stadium, the buzz and the sense of anticipation at the next three days of competition was palpable in the dining area.
Saturday Aug 26th:
The opening day of competition saw Tralee athletes Cian Foley and Mike Fitzgerald burst from the blocks in the 60m sprint to qualify for the final, a fantastic achievement. They were followed on the track by Dearbhail Foley in the 200m who ran magnificently to finish third in her heat, but failed to make the final by just point 13 of a second. Ailbhe Courtney jumped an impressive 4m 50 on her first jump but could not improve on this mark in subsequent jumps. In the 800m event Aisling Ni Nuallain and Sabina Sayers were drawn in separate heats and while both ran superb races it was Aisling who turned in a personal best time of 2mns 33secs to finish fourth and qualify for the final. The experience gained at the Coventry Games last year certainly stood to her, timing her late run to perfection.
In the pool four of the five swimmers were in action- James Hanafin, (200 IM) improved his PB by 5 secs, Claire o Connell, (100m Back), finished 12th of 36 swimmers, Michelle Smith (100m Back) swam 2secs below her PB and Sinead Moran (50m Free) was also inside her PB – and all were delighted with their performances. Unfortunately these times fell short of finals qualification.
In the basketball arena the Tralee lads received a ruthless mauling from eventual Gold medallists, Sonora of Mexico, losing to a much stronger and more technically efficient team on a score of 80 – 30. Despite the heavy defeat Tralee performed with great heart throughout and were simply outclassed by an exceptional team. Diarmuid Herlihy, Joseph o Callaghan, Declan Doody and Eoin Quigley gave sterling performances throughout. Later that day they played Kecskemet of Hungary- a city Tralee had played against in soccer last year in Coventry – and were defeated 54- 34 despite a much improved display. Diarmuid Herlihy and Jamie Lowham top scored for Tralee on 10 pts and received valuable support on the board from Mark o Connor, David Mannix and Chris Carmody.
Sunday Aug 27th:
Day two of competition saw Dearbhail Foley and Ailbhe Courtney in action in the 100m heats. Both finished 3rd in times of 13.72 and 13.73 respectively, times which fell short of final qualification. Lisa Brennan performed to her best in the 200m and later in the High Jump was unlucky to clip the bar in her final jump. Jamie Byrne, Mike Fitzgerald and Cian Foley ran to their PB times in the 100m and 200m. Michael Brennan and James Walshe performed heroically in the 1500m, suffering visibly during the course of the race from the intense heat, finishing down the field, but creditably crossing the finish line, an achievement in itself for these lads in these conditions.
In the finals of the 60m and the 800m Cian Foley and Aisling Ni Nuallain fought to the end but had to be satisfied with the minor placings. Both however can take consolation from the fact that they were the first ever Tralee finalists in the history of the International Children’s Games.
In the pool the performance of the week came from Claire o Connell in the 200m IM where, amid emotional scenes, she won her heat in dramatic and determined fashion in 2.40 secs, a time which placed her 10th 0f 26 swimmers and just outside a final place. She was followed by Philip Stone in the 100m Breaststroke and the 50 Freestyle, who swam strongly throughout, and James Hanafin (100m Backstroke) who dipped under his PB by one second. Sinead Moran completed Tralee’s swim competition with a strong swim in the 100m freestyle and overall these swimmers performed with pride and distinction as the first representatives of their town, and will hopefully encourage others to follow in their slipstream in the years ahead.
The basketball team were pitted against Ulanbaatar of Mongolia, who would later win the Bronze medals, in their final group game and played their best basketball of the Games, winning the second quarter, before going down 79 – 38. Ian Carey, Herlihy, Quigley, Lowham and Mannix were the leading lights for Tralee. Overall the standard of the basketball teams at the Games was exceptional and with the Gold and Bronze winners in their group Tralee stood little chance of emerging. The experience gained however will stand these boys in good stead for the future and they will certainly know the levels of improvement required
for their future involvement at this level.
On that night the Tralee team attended the grand traditional Thai cultural performance at Siam Niramitr, a Siamsa like performance of Thai music, dance and art. It was exceptional and enjoyed by everyone.
Monday Aug 28th:
Day three was remarkable for the performances of the 4x100m relay team who qualified for the final of the relay with a fantastic performance in the heats, knocking 3 secs of their best time. Cian Foley, Jamie Byrne, Mike Fitzgerald and Michael Brennan would further improve this time by a second in the final to finish in 6th position and bring the curtain down on a very positive performance in Track and Field for the Tralee team.
The Tralee delegation was taken on a tour of the Royal Palaces and the Emerald Buddha today prior to the spectacular Closing Ceremony at 5.00pm. The flag for the Games was handed over to the Rejykavik Committee and the Flame of the Games was extinguished in ceremonial fashion, amid music song and dance involving children of all ages in traditional Thai costume and dress. The incredible presentation was further enhanced thereafter by impromptu dancing on the field by athletes of all participating towns and cities, and the swapping of gear and badges among the children. It was truly a scene of unbridled joy, of sharing, of fun and enjoyment, and of acceptance and friendship among these athletes, which augurs well for understanding and co operation in the world in the future.
Tuesday was spent shopping in a major department store where many bargains were snapped up with eagerness, and before Tralee departed for the airport they were taken on an open bus tour of the city of Bangkok by night, a highlight of the week for many.
The team arrived safely at Cork airport on Wednesday at 11.30am and returned to Tralee at 3.00pm, tired, but appreciative of the support of the people of Tralee for their initial support for the team’s participation at the Games and fully aware that they had been part of an exceptional sporting and cultural experience, which would be forever etched in the memory. Roll on Rejykavik 2007 and Tralee’s continued participation in the world’s largest multi-sport youth event and a truly Olympian experience for all involved. Perhaps one day we will see these games hosted in Kerry!!
Athletics: Cian Foley and Mike Fitzgerald, Cian Foley, James Walsh, Michael Brennan, Dearbhail Foley, Ailbhe Courtney, Aisling Ni Nuallain, Sabina Sayers, Lisa Brennan
Swimming: James Hanafin, Claire o Connell, Michelle Smith, Philip Stone, Sinead Moran
Basketball: Diarmuid Herlihy, Joseph o Callaghan, Declan Doody, Eoin Quigley, Jamie Lowham, Mark O Connor, David Mannix and Chris Carmody.