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10th Aug 2016

JOE Backpacking Diary #19 – Meeting the amazing families behind the athletes and great Irish fans at Rio 2016

Joe Harrington

A lot of highs and lows in Rio this week, but it’s been a special few days covering the Irish Olympic story.

My name is Joe Harrington; I’m travelling through Central and South America for eight months, here’s what happened on week 18.

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (continued)

I mentioned at the end of the diary last week that I was trying to get a small community of Irish people in Rio together and it paid off on Friday night.

We arranged on WhatsApp to meet up under the arches in Lapa with the idea of going to Olympic Boulevard in the city centre to watch the Opening Ceremony.

A load of Irish people showed up, it was great.

Everyone was in flying form so we had a few beers in Lapa before taking the longest walk in recent memory to the docks where the crowds were gathering.

I’ve been travelling on this side of the world for over four months now so I obviously missed Euro 2016 in France.

The daily FOMO during that tournament was awful, so I was hoping we could recreate that spirit in Rio city centre on Friday.

The Irish who showed up didn’t take part, they took over. I can’t remember who said that line…

It was hilarious. The crew were showing their national pride by belting out songs from Westlife, Boyzone and B*witched as well as the classic Ole Ole Ole and We’re All Part Of Jacky’s Army.

The locals didn’t know what was going on and lots of them joined in the dancing and singing and the local media outlets even came over to get footage.

The highlight of the night was when Team Ireland appeared on the big screen.

The gang went absolutely bananas and the only louder country on the night were the Brazilians. Here’s the reaction when the Irish team emerged.

We all went back to Lapa after things finished up on Olympic Boulevard and the craic was the same there; sing-songs and fun with all the different nationalities.

A great night and a fantastic way to start the Olympic Games.

The next morning I took a subway (Flamengo – Central) and a train (Central – Santa Cruz Line) to Deodoro to see the Irish Men’s Hockey team play their opening game of the tournament.

The boys lost 3-2 to India in a really tight game. Ireland had their chances towards the end to level the game but couldn’t get the third goal. A good performance though.

The families, friends and fans showed their appreciation after the final whistle.

After the game, I spoke to a few of the parents in the crowd, and while they were disappointed, I could see that they were bursting with pride that their kids had just played at Olympic level. It was nice.

I also had a chat with my friends on the Big Red Bench on Cork’s RedFM about the game and the atmosphere in Rio.

You can listen to the podcast here:

I travelled back out to Deodoro for day two with my focus being the Equestrian Team and the Men’s Hockey team again.

First up in the three day Eventing competition was dressage. Honestly, I didn’t have a bull’s notion about dressage a few days ago, but some research and the hope of a good Irish performance got me into it.

The Irish team – Padraig McCarthy, Clare Abbott, Mark Kyle and Jonty Evans – did fantastically well finishing 5th in the overall team rankings.

A quick run up the road brought me to the entrance of the hockey arena and it was jammers.

It took a good 20 minutes to get through the security and ticket checks and then I went looking for food. The food situation in Deodoro is absolutely awful.

The only option available to me earlier in the day, at 11am, was a dodgy hot dog. The only thing available to me at 5pm, a dodgier hot dog.

I’d been in the arenas since 9am and I had no other choice but to have two hot dogs. Not happy. Hungry. Angry. Hangry. You can’t bring in your own food either if you’re thinking that’s an alternative.

Despite my hanger, I was very excited about the game between Ireland and Netherlands. The Dutch are second in the world so we had nothing to lose.

It didn’t go according to plan for Ireland as they were beaten 5-0 but the score wasn’t a fair reflection of how the game went.

Holland were just super clinical while Ireland were bright and creative but just failed to take their chances.

There was great fun between both sets of supporters too and the Dutch showed their class by standing to applaud Conor Harte who was forced off through injury.

The train ride back to Central was really interesting because I got talking to two local people named Luna and Thomas.

They were really positive about the Games in their city, especially Luna, but they told me a bit about the impact it’s had on their lives.

Luna is studying to become a lawyer but she hasn’t had college in seven months because her lecturers are on strike over pay.

There’s no money to resolve the issue because it’s all been pumped into the Olympics so everyone is in limbo at the moment. A sad side-effect of the circus.

There was a real buzz among the Irish gang in Rio about day three because the team flag-bearer Paddy Barnes was making his first appearance of the competition.

His teammates Steven Donnelly and David Oliver Joyce progressed over the weekend and Barnes was expected to follow but it went wrong for the three-time Olympian.

A difficult weight-cut meant he wasn’t able to perform at 100% and he lost on a split-decision to his Spanish opponent.

I was shocked and so were these Irish fans I spoke to after the fight in Rio (tap here to see the video).

To everyone’s surprise, Barnes appeared from the arena about an hour after the fight had finished. He took photos with the fans and talked to them for ages.

A classy touch.

I decided to go back out to the Equestrian Arena in Deodoro on day four to follow up on the Irish team who were 9th going into the final event, show jumping.

They put in an excellent performance with Clare Abbott and Jonty Evans recording clear rounds and Mark Kyle picking up three fault in his, they finished 9th overall but Jonty reached the Individual Final.

I’d spent some time with Jonty’s family on the day of the dressage and at the show jumping so I was even more invested in his performance than before.

He was 12th to compete out of 25 and he recorded another stunning clear round to take the lead in the competition.

I managed to capture him clearing the last jump, a real magical moment for him and his family.

The scores from the previous two days action were added to his two clear rounds and at the end of the action Jonty finished in 9th position.

A top 10 finish in an Olympic final, that’s a great achievement.

He was delighted with the performance when I spoke to him outside the arena in Rio [tap play to watch video].

The way I’m covering the Olympics for JOE is to get the fans perspective and it’s been an absolute joy so far.

I’m meeting proud parents, daughters, sons, siblings and friends of the athletes who are beaming with pride that their person is in the Olympics, the biggest stage of them all.

A lot of people scoff at our athletes’ performances if they don’t do well, but these people have worked so hard to reach this stage and we should be proud and supportive of all of them.

Take Jonty for example. A few moments before I interviewed him, he was greeted by his family and there were tears of joy from everyone. He’d just lived his dream, to compete at the Olympic Games and his family were right there with him. That’s special.

The show goes on with rowing, golf, athletics, sailing and more boxing ahead over the next few days. I cannot wait.

If you are coming over to Rio for the games or you know someone here, find me on Twitter @ImJoeHarrington and I’ll add people to the #IrishInRio WhatsApp group.

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.

The National Dairy Council has partnered with the Irish Institute of Sport to share how top Irish Athletes are built by protein but powered by dairy. To learn more about the importance of dairy in sports nutrition, visit or see the hashtag #poweredbydairy

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