Rio 2016 Diary: Finally, some action

Off The Ball's Richie McCormack is our man on the ground in Rio...

Rio Diary, Rio 2016, Rio Olympics

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie 

The day’s sport felt - from a personal standpoint at least - like a restorative one. The talk of Big Drugs and Big Bans and a gathering storm over the Irish apartments was set to one side for moments of personal achievement and vindication.

First, a morning trip to Deodoro and the sweltering heat to see an Irish hockey side turn out at an Olympic Games for the first time since 1908. Back then, only six teams entered and the farthest flung of those was Germany. This time we return to the top table 12th in the world and starting out against eight time gold medallists India.

I settled in among the Irish crowd that was peppered with pre-worm players jerseys. These were players’ family - all of whom had travelled half the world to see the likes of Michael Darling and Ronan Gormley fulfil personal ambitions.

Hockey mightn’t dominate the sports pages, and the 3-2 defeat may matter little to the vast majority, but oh to be John Jermyn, scoring our first Olympic goal in 108 years. Speaking afterwards to Alan Sothern’s father the pride was palpable. There’s a decent result in this group for Ireland - just wait.

Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

As we had left for Deodoro, the huge lengthy snaking queues for the opening day of action in the Olympic Park were astounding. They had built it and they were coming, it was just that the door seemed a bit too narrow.

That door is a financial one too, as though the Olympic Park seemed busy - when I popped into the Tennis Centre’s main arena to see Jo Wilfried Tsonga, the place was only half full. Enthusiastic, noisy, but half full.

The array of arenas and walkways in the Olympic Park are breathtaking. It was one of those “I want to call Dad and tell him I’m here” moments. Alas…

Emese Szasz is a name I will remember for a while. She was the first person I’d ever witness win an Olympic gold, triumphing in the women’s épée fencing. Her reaction in victory and that of her vanquished Italian opponent spoke of what these Games mean to the less-heralded competitors.

And so, Kieran Behan. Funded by his folks, working on a site to supplement his income and imparting his gymnastic knowledge to others just so he can be here. Small in stature but he's made of pure steel. He took part in the individual all around competition.

Starting with the pommel horse, then the rings, vault, parallel bars and high bar. He showed poise, grace, strength and no little effort. A disappointing opening round placed him 54th over all, but subsequent rounds saw him climb the ladder, gaining ground on those ahead and up to 39th.

Yes, a finals place was likely beyond him by the time he took the floor - but he was going to leave it all out there, and boy did he. After a couple of aerobatic traverses of the floor he halted, seemingly at war with his left knee. It was over. Aided by his coach he hobbled to the side of the hall, trying to shake this thing. But a medic-aided wheelchair exit to deserved applause hinted at the severity of what had occurred.

We’d hoped to speak to him afterwards, but were told by an official it was unlikely. But no, out came Behan crutches and all. No wincing, no plays for sympathy - on his first tumbling pass he’d dislocated his knee, and decided to continue.

“One of them things”, he said. His tough journey was the makings of him, and this will no doubt galvanise him even further. As one of the many on the Off the Ball Twitter account observed, not all heroes wear capes.