JOE Backpacking Diary #25 - Watching Jason Smyth win Gold for Ireland in Rio brought me unimaginable pride 7 years ago

JOE Backpacking Diary #25 - Watching Jason Smyth win Gold for Ireland in Rio brought me unimaginable pride

The magic of the Paralympics has really hit home over the last few days.

My name is Joe Harrington; I'm travelling through Central and South America for eight months, here's what happened during week 24.


Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (continued)

Day One of the Paraylmpics was one of the busiest days of my life so it was a serious re-introduction to work after two weeks of faffing about in Copacabana.

The first event I decided to go to was Ailbhe Kelly's heat in the Aquatic Arena.


I got there in plenty of time and spotted some Irish jerseys in the crowd so I walked over to see who they were. It was Ailbhe's family.

I spoke to her parents, Kieran and Mags, about Ailbhe and how they were feeling. As you can imagine, they were nervous but they were beaming that their daughter was competing there.

They told me Ailbhe's 18th birthday was falling on the day of the Closing Ceremony, what a way to celebrate!


The 400 metre freestyle isn't her strongest discipline and she came home in 7th place, but she had a very positive and mature outlook at the end.

The next destination was about a 10 minute walk across the Olympic Park to the Velodrome where Sean Hahessy and Damien Vereker were in action in the Individual Tandem.


I spoke to Damien and Sean the day before and they were feeling good and hoping to do enough to get into a medal race.

They raced second and recorded a super-fast time.

Unfortunately for the guys it wasn't enough to make a medal race as they finished in 8th place.


They've more action to look forward to and considering they've only been working together for two months, they'll only get better and faster.

The next stop was Deodoro to see the Irish football team in action against Ukraine. The journey there by bus took 50 minutes.

The number of Irish people here for the Paralympics is obviously a lot less than the Olympics, but I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived at the football ground.

There were dozens of Irish people there, mostly family and friends, but it was still great to see all the green jerseys and flags.

They made a hell of a lot of noise too and the Brazilians there fell in love with them as both sets of fans ended up singing and dancing together.

One of the funniest things was the Brazilian guys asking all the Irish girls for selfies, I overheard one of the girls say, "I feel famous."

I was actually asked for a selfie myself by some Brazilian girls on the way out. So there.

Although, I felt less famous and more like they're doing this to show their friends the tall, pasty freak boy they saw at the football. They did run off laughing. Sadface.

During his press conference on Tuesday, Jason Smyth says he finds similarities between Irish people and Brazilian people and I'm inclined to agree with him.

You can clearly see a sense of fun in both and if you think Irish people love a party and a few beers, you should hang out with the locals here in Rio. Lunatics.

Anyway, back to the football.

Ireland conceded three goals in five minutes midway through the first half which left them with a huge mountain to climb.

Ukraine are the top ranked team in the world with some exceptional players, so there's no shame in that defeat.

One of the highlights of working at the Olympics was meeting the families of the athletes and it's the same now during the Paralympics.

I managed to get a few words with the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, girlfriends and friends of the football team and it was a real pleasure.

They were bursting with pride.

One more stop on Day One and that was the Olympic Stadium to see Ireland's four-time Gold medalist Jason Smyth in action in the heats of the 100 metres.

"The White Usain Bolt," as he's been dubbed, is one of the main faces of the games and to see an Irishman in that position is fantastic, which is why such a small crowd was disappointing.

I've become accustomed to small crowds at the events so I won't dwell on it and I know it didn't bother Jason as he eased through to the final with a pretty routine display.

I had a chance to speak to him in the mixed zone after the race, he was as cool as a breeze and oozing confidence.

Once I wrapped up my work at the stadium, I made the commute back to my place in Copacabana which took around an hour.

I made it in the door just after 10pm to round off a hectic 14 hour day. I tried to watch the new season of Narcos in bed, but I conked after five minutes. You know you're tired when even Pablo Escobar can't keep you awake.

Jason Smyth's final was on the morning of day two so the Olympic Stadium was where me, and every other Irish person in Rio, was headed.

The commute out reminded me of the morning of Thomas Barr's Olympic final, there's something unique about seeing Irish athletes perform at the very highest level.

I arrived about an hour before the race and already camped at the finish line were Jason's uncle and some of his friends.

There were Irish people scattered all around the stadium with tri-colours hanging over the edge of the track and jerseys dotted in the crowd.

The moments leading up to the race felt different to any of the competitions with Irish people I'd been to before though because Jason was expected to win, and to win well.

That's a weird thing for a country that are perenial underdogs, but after speaking to him the night before I was feeling confident he'd clinch his 5th Gold medal.

He did, and here's my view of how it unfolded.


Jason did a victory lap and got a massive ovation from everybody in the stadium before going down to speak to us in the media mixed zone.

The guy is a class act and he came out with a really brilliant quote while we were talking to him.

I absolutely love that.

After a few minutes with us, he rushed back up to the track for the medal presentation which was taking place trackside.

I was there for the O'Donovans' and Annalise Murphy's silver medal wins and those moments will live with me forever, but to see the Irish flag raised and Amhrán na bhFiann play out in the Olympic Stadium for a gold medal win was another level.


The guy has been consistently delivering outstanding performances over the last eight years and it was a privilege to see him achieve greatness again on the biggest stage of all.

A national treasure.

My evening was spent in the Olympic Park in Barra with two Irish medal hopes in action.

First up was Nicole Turner in the S6 50 metre Butterfly Final at the Aquatic Arena. Nicole is from Laois and she's 14-years old. FOURTEEN!

I met her family aka Team Turner just before the race.

Nicole smashed her personal best by over a second to finish 5th in a time of 37.31 seconds. What a performance by the teenager.

Nicole is competing in six events in the pool so hopefully we'll see her win a medal before it's all over.

After all of that I had 10 minutes to get to the Velodrome to see Eoghan Clifford compete in the Bronze medal race of the C3 Individual Pursuit.

I legged it across the Olympic Park as gracefully as a drunk Ostrich but I made it just in time as Eoghan was on the track about to start his race.

He nailed it and beat the Canadian opponent to claim Bronze, watch the last lap and Irish fans celebrating here.

Eoghan was incredibly humble afterwards and he told us about the pain he was going through before and during the race.

A truly heroic effort by the Galway man.

The highlights of day three were the performances of Nicole Turner, Orla Comerford and Greta Streimikyte.

Nicole finished second in her heat of the 50 metre freestyle to reach the final where she finished in 7th place. That's two Paralympic finals for the 14-year-old in two days.

On the track, Greta Streimikyte finished in 4th place in the T13 1500 metre final and she did it with a personal best time of 4:45.06.

Orla Comerford will be in the finalon the T13 100 metre final on Sunday after finishing fourth with a personal best time of 12:81. We're looking forward to seeing her in action.

Elsewhere, Sean Baldwin finished 33rd in his R3 Mixed 10m Rifle Prone Qualifier and Rena McCarron Rooney lost in the quarter final of the Women's singles table tennis.

It's been a really amazing few days following these athletes and their stories as well as meeting the families and friends.

Fingers crossed for some more special moments over the next few days.


Please get in touch with me if you're going to be in Rio over the next two weeks.

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

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