Rio 2016 Diary: From the highs of the tennis theatrics to the lows of the boxing ring

Richie McCormack is our man on the ground in Rio...

Rio 2016 Diary: From the highs of the tennis theatrics to the lows of the boxing ring

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

SATURDAY:

After the highs of the O'Donovans on Friday, it's back down to the canvas with a thud. I don't know what it is about Riocentro, but I always seem to arrive here with a stress headache. The boxing - literally since the moment I landed - appears to be the main culprit.

We've had a few disappointments out here over the week, and today we take one blow after another. Disappointing for Brendan Irvine, sure, but he's a young kid and he will be back. And for Stevie Donnelly, simply beaten by the world champion and no complaints. The optics of this boxing campaign would be much better - and with it less frivolous Billy Walsh chatter - if only Conlan and Taylor had fought earlier. Have no doubt they'll pull things around next week.

From here, the time difference is your friend in the evenings and your enemy in the morning when it comes to the show back home. With it wrapping up at 3pm Rio time at weekends I can go and indulge somewhat. Today, it's Juan Martin Del Potro v Rafa Nadal in the men's tennis semis.

What an atmosphere. Pockets of noisy Argentines flank the court, while above and around them the natives do their best to shout them down. It makes for a magnificent din. In terms of atmospheres experienced so far, this is the best. And thankfully we get the tennis to match. Del Potro wins out in the end, and with it comes some forgiveness from the baying locals.

Right - off to the athletics for the first time. The news from the early sessions are not encouraging for the skeptics among us - the 10,000-metre World Record annihilated by someone running it for the second time.

The surrounds of the stadium are pretty cool. Lots of these tiny shack/bars that serve tinned beer and meats on sticks. Nothing dressed up or fake about it. Inside the concrete bowl, it's a different story.

The empty seats strike me first. It's less than a third full when we arrive for what four-years ago was called 'Super Saturday'. No blame for the locals, of course. Not their fault. These Olympics shouldn't be here - in every conceivable way, they cost too much.

Mo Farah is the star turn for the locals and travelling Team GB fans. Cheered home in a sprint round the outside, regaining his 10,000-metres title having fallen earlier in the race. His tactical running with Galen Rupp and the lingering fog of Salazar tighten our chests.

His post-race press conference is mosty fluff, how great Mo art. Then Ewan McKenna - the shy, retiring fella - pipes up about Salazar and then Jama Aden. Farah seems wrong-footed. A burbled insistence at cleanliness ekes out before he hastily moves on. Then, the really strange thing.

Those of the fluffy questions come to congratulate Ewan on the question. "No, really, well done mate". No names reproduced here, but a couple of big papers among their number. They have the same info, the same queries as us, but clearly there are some questions those higher up in the UK media don't want asked. Mo's good news. Mo shifts papers. Mo wins medals.

SUNDAY:

Again, we start in the boxing arena. It's a baking hot day here today, and I'm not mad keen on the Riocentro venue. It's pretty close to us, but just a bastard to navigate - a sprawling complex of shed-like convention centres. But Micky Conlan's fighting today, one of our remaining hopes in the ring. He performs ok - looking like he's puffing a bit after the first round. Judges cards say he's got this, and right enough a unanimous victory follows.

After the fight, he speaks warmly of his young daughter, and coolly of those calling for Billy Walsh's return. Not that it will happen, but "Zaur Antia is the man, and always will be the man".



What was supposed to be a quiet day is in danger of becoming a busy one. Seamus Power is on the charge in the golf. But as we get back to the media centre, he hits some speed bumps and medal hopes fly out the window.

It's men's final day in the tennis, so before I'm required at the athletics, I check in at Centre Court. To say it's sparsely populated, is being kind. There must be only a few dozen for the mixed doubles final, of which Venus Williams is a participant. Sadly, exhaustion takes hold. With shade and a headrest behind me, the 2016 Olympic Mixed Doubles final becomes the first sporting event I've ever nodded off at. Sorry, Venus.

Upon waking I discover that a ticket will be required for Murray-Del Potro. A ticket I don't have. For the rules are here that some events are classed as 'high demand', so even our well worn lanyards don't get us in all the time.

Probably just as well, because that dragged on in exhausting, dramatic style. Instead, it's back to the Olympic Stadium where Bolt v Gatlin, the Stone Cold Steve Austin v Vince McMahon of the track is the headline.

Wayde van Niekerk is determined to steal the show, however. Nothing had stood out about the South African in his semi-final the night before. So little so, he was posted in lane 8 for the 400m final. But 43.03 seconds after the 'b' of the bang - everyone knew who he was.

"World record!", someone next to me shouts. Surely not. That record was Michael Johnson's. That record wasn't supposed to be touched. 17-years in the books, Michael Johnson is now second on the all-time list. Despite having a season's best a second slower than tonight, a poxy lane draw, and zero public expectations - Van Niekerk is just the fourth man since 1968 to go round one lap as fast.

Now our main event. Boos for Gatlin, lusty ones. Save for a pocket of Uncle Sam-dressed, stars and stripes wavers beneath me. They'll probably vote Trump too. Bolt! Bolt! Bolt! echoes round the stadium as the gangly champion is introduced.

The 100m has always been the marquee event, the reason i first started watching athletics with my Dad. But tonight, somehow and sadly, this fees kind of hollow. Too many questions. Too many answers we may know, but can't say. Bolt nets his hat-trick in 9.81.

MONDAY:

Ugh, this time difference is a pox. After a late finish at the athletics on Sunday night, file a report for the Breakfast Show at 1.30am - sleep for 3 hours - up again at 6 for Pat chats, followed by a piece for Lunchtime. You start to lose any sense of what day it is when they melt together like that so far from home.

No matter, we're about to get back on track in the boxing. Finally, Katie Taylor takes to the ring in her quarter-final. Just 12-minutes or so between her and a medal. But no, the first round doesn't go cleanly. The second even worse. Suddenly two judges have it level and the other favours Katie's Finnish opponent - surely enough time to turn this around. Into the fourth round, the once hopeful Irish faces that pop up on Pavilion Six's big screens now wear worried looks. She couldn't lose, could she? 

She does. And not even by a narrow margin, by the seeming toss of a coin from a judge. Sure, Potkonen fought well, but this seems harsh. It's a sentiment amplified, not echoed, by coach Eddie Bolger after the fight when he arrives with a visibly rattled Katie and her Mam. 

"It was a shocking decision....and the whole place knows it", Eddie barks. 

The sense among us is that it was close, and yeah maybe Potkonen edged it. But it's a hard one to take. Any lingering traces of optimism have drifted skyward in this oppressive, breathless heat today.

No time to dwell - for thousands (well, a couple dozen) are sailing. Annalise Murphy is due to go from third in the medal race of the Laser Radial. Today is a ridiculously hot day, barely a puff of wind. Not really sailing weather. We arrive to Marina Gloria with news of delays, We'll be here a while, it seems. 

Suddenly, we're all scrambling to become experts in the signs and signage of sailing. What does that flag mean? Are they heading out? 4.30, the latest time they can head out, you say? I ramble down to the beach where the spectators gather patiently. Dutch flags, Belgian flags, Jamaican and British dot the beach.

But it's the green-clad Irish that make the most noise. Among them, Annalise Murphy's proud Mam, Cathy, her sister Claudine and shamrock-suited brother Finn. And Santy. Yes, Papa Claus has come to support the Finns here today. He's nothing if not a patriot. 

Just as the winds whip up, just as they're good to go, another flag. They're called back ashore, and we'll be back tomorrow. Hopefully, Annalise has a word with Santy on her way out this evening. She's been good.