JOE Backpacking Diary #20 - My view of those magical moments in Rio as the O'Donovan brothers made history 6 years ago

JOE Backpacking Diary #20 - My view of those magical moments in Rio as the O'Donovan brothers made history

Being in Rio to see the happiness those two boys brought to their family and friends is one of the most special things I've ever experienced.

My name is Joe Harrington; I'm travelling through Central and South America for eight months, here's what happened on week 19.


Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (continued)

As I was leaving the equestrian arena after Jonty Evans' ninth place finish on Tuesday, I saw a Brazilian man wearing what looked like a Irish USA '94 jersey. WTF?

I looked a little closer and it was the jersey, a replica one, but nonetheless the Irish jersey. Here's how our initial conversation went.

Me: "Hi, you know that's an Irish football jersey, right?"
Brazilian man: "Yes, I know. I love Ireland."
Me: "Haha, no way. How did that happen?"
Brazilian man: "It's a long story."


Here's Matthew from Natal, which is in the very north of Brazil, explaining why he loves our little country.

Matthew is an absolute gentleman and some of the comments under the story on the Facebook page cracked me up.


They ranged from "Give that man a passport" to "Set up a GoFundMe page to bring Matthew to Ireland" to "Legend." All appropriate.

He's planning on going to some more Irish events so I hope to see him again in the next few weeks.

I woke up the following morning at 6am to get out to the Lagoa Stadium for the semi finals of the rowing. Claire Lambe, Sinead Lynch and Gary and Paul O'Donovan were scheduled to compete, but the weather intervened.

The wind was too strong and the event was postponed until the following day. I was milling around the entrance when I bumped into the O'Donovan boys' family.


We had a good chat for about an hour and then I asked their mammy Trisha to record a quick piece with me. She was gold, watch the interview here.

It was a bit disappointing that I didn't get to see anything in the morning for two reasons; a late cancellation meant I couldn't make another event and I wanted to see those Cork lads "pull like dogs."

I got back to my apartment at 1pm, checked my DMs on Twitter and I saw an invite from the BBC World Service to take part in their radio programme in Rio. Nice one.


I hopped back on the subway to Copacabana and joined them 500 metres away from the beach volleyball arena. A radio show on the beach, it's not a bad setting.

The World Have Your Say show was really interesting with journalists from The Daily Beast, The Hong Kong Times, BBC Brazil and some local professionals making up the panel.

We were discussing fan behaviour at the games on the back of complaints about booing and heckling from the home crowds.

The local people explained that behaviour is part of the culture, it creates an atmosphere and adds to the fun of an event. It was a good chat, you can listen to the podcast here.

I chilled that evening in the Air BnB with the family I'm staying with and we all watched Michael Phelps on the telly.

Icaru, their cousin from Sao Paolo, is in town for the games. He's a brilliant young swimmer who hopes to make the next Brazilian Olympic team. It was great to see him go crazy watching what Phelps was doing. He's totally inspired.

A 5:30am start the next morning to make the long trek out to the Olympic Golf Course in Barra De Tijuca. I arrived on the first tee at 7:40am just as Padraig Harrington teed off for Ireland.

I wrote this on my Instagram about my day with our three-time Major winner.

"A dream to follow Padraig Harrington around his opening round at the Olympics today. He has always been one of my favourite Irish sportspeople and he was a class act all day. He played well (-1), he saluted every Irish fan along the way, he encouraged his opponents and he smiled from start to finish. We're lucky to have him."

We are.

I grabbed some lunch with two Sligo lads, Niall and Brian, and before I went to find Seamus Power on the course, I met Neri.

Neri is an Italian man that has been living in Rio for the past 15 years and he was extremely disappointed by Rory McIlroy's decision to pull out of the Olympics.

Neri was so upset that he tracked down McIlroy's personal email address and sent him a message. I'm not kidding. He explains here what he said.

In my search for Seamus Power, I got "stuck" watching Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler play a few holes. Rickie was having a mare, but Rose was on fire. It was cool to see those guys up close.

I caught Seamus on the 13th and he was -1, in good shape. He finished solidly and came home on level par. I got a quick backstory on Seamus from one of the Waterford lads walking around.

He picked up golf at 7-years old and he was a natural, he was outstanding underage and after getting six As in the Leaving Cert he got a scholarship to the States where he's been ripping it up for the last few years.

I got word that both rowing teams qualified for their respective finals and Annalise Murphy was in first position in sailing, a good day for Team Ireland.

I went to bed that night wondering if those two boys from Skibbereen or those amazing women Claire and Sinead could get us a medal. Time would tell.

I reached the Lagoa Stadium at 8:30am and the rain was bucketing down but there was very little wind which was the main thing.

I met the families pretty much straight away. They were in good form, but the tension was palpable.

Sinead Lynch and Claire Lambe's race was at 10:32am and a minute before it started the rain stopped and the conditions were perfect.

The two Irish women gave it everything but it wasn't to be their day and they finished in 6th place. The supporters, as always, were fantastic and they gave them a hero's welcome over the line. Exactly what they deserved.

The next race was the lightweight men's double sculls and it featured the two most famous sportspeople in Ireland right now; Paul and Gary O'Donovan.

The crowd got up off their seats and stood against the barrier at the edge of the water and the place transformed into a sea of green, white and gold.

The boys started well setting the early pace before slipping into second just behind the French team. There was nothing between them for the whole race and the sprint finish was one of the most exhilarating sporting moments I've ever witnessed.

The boys pushed and pushed and came home in second place; OLYMPIC SILVER MEDALISTS! The place erupted.

I was filming the final scenes for work and I managed to catch this shot of Trisha O'Donovan realising her two sons won silver. It's magic.

I don't know what it was like at home, but that moment was incredibly emotional for everyone in Rio, including me.

I spent some time with Trisha on Wednesday and before the race on Friday, and she's one of the nicest people I've ever met. She's genuine, down-to-earth and so kind.

When I saw her face change as she realised they'd done it, I almost burst out crying. I can't explain it, it was just my instinctive reaction.

I think it's because I don't think I've ever seen anyone that happy in my entire life, and it couldn't happen to a better person. It was a really beautiful moment, and one I'll never forget.

There's a lovely piece in that clip where Claire Lambe's mother gives Trisha a big hug, two proud Irish mammies supporting each other all the way. It's so nice.

After it all calmed down, Trisha did an interview with me for JOE. You can watch it here.

Christ, it was an absolutely amazing day.

As I'm writing this, there's a WhatsApp group full of Irish people buzzing as they try to organise a celebration party here in Rio.

I reckon it's going to be an amazing night too #PullLikeADog


If you want to join the Irish community we've built in Rio, just contact me on Twitter.

If you've any tips on Rio, please get in contact with me on Twitter or Instagram. My username on both is: @ImJoeHarrington.

Read about my trip through Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru by clicking here.

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