Newstalk Sports broadcaster reflects on the highs and lows of covering the Paralympic Games
On Sunday night at the Paralympics closing ceremony as Nathan Carter’s South American clone played what must have been the Brazilian version of 'Wagon Wheel', I started thinking about how a trip I was nervous about had passed off without incident.
As soon as I was asked to cover the Paralympics my answer was yes but I’d be lying if I said the horror stories about Rio didn’t worry me.
Before the Olympics the various reports of athletes being mugged and men in police uniforms committing robberies circulated. Luckily I saw no such thing and while I’m sure there were petty thefts and various incidents, I didn’t hear any major horror stories.
Even when my Newstalk colleague Richie McCormack returned unscathed with only good things to say, I still worried. Richie is tall and a Bohemians fans with Meath connections, if trouble started he was well placed to handle himself but it was no place for an average size beauty such as myself.
As I wrote about last week, I need not have worried. When you cover a major sports event, you exist in a bubble of press areas, media buses and big groups of well protected people so while you’re at a place, in a way you’re not really in a place. Paralympics Ireland support staff and Team Ireland could not have been any more helpful if they tried and while the local Volunteers didn't always have the answer they always had a smile. All of the above is a long winded way of saying that despite my nerves there was no need for concern and as I got in my cab for the airport I was rather happy with how it all went in a work and personal safety sense. I would not have any exciting stories of robbery or incident and for that I was glad. Having being robbed in Barcelona and on another trip driving into the wrong part of Cape Town I already had enough of those tales!
As it turns out, I spoke too soon and should have waited until I left Brazilian soil before I started thinking about how I had no real brushes with danger or incident. As I sat in the cab to the airport at 3.30am I noticed the driver had an image of Jesus on the dashboard. At first I thought it was because he was religious but I soon realized it was because the way he drove he could well be meeting him soon and wanted to have clear picture of what he looked like.
The four red lights he ran on the dual carriage way I can understand as it was early and there was no traffic. The sharp breaking for no reason was maybe to avoid speed traps, the bumpy gear changes could have been for any number of reasons. Maybe it was his first time driving that car...as the journey went on I began to think maybe it was his first time driving any car!
All of the above was bad enough but the cherry on top of the scary journey cake was the sudden swerves across the road on a constant basis, often regardless of whether or not there was traffic. The first time we careered towards a jeep before suddenly redirecting, the second time towards a bollard the third another car! I’m not religious but at this stage I was fixed on the image of Jesus on the dashboard and thinking "Ah t'is yourself , listen I don’t talk to you that often but if you do exist and you’re not too tired after somehow getting Michael Darragh Macauley off from an obvious black card maybe you could make sure I get to the airport safe."
When we eventually swerved into at the dropzone at the airport, the wrong terminal, but at least the right airport he helped me unload my bags and then gave me the "how about a tip look". I said yeah here’s your tip "LEARN HOW TO F***ING DRIVE YOU CRAZY BASTARD".
OK, I didn’t actually say the words but I like to think my eyes and even paler completion that when the journey started did it for me. He probably didn’t notice my displeasure - if his lane swerving had taught me anything it was that observation wasn’t his strong point. I had been to the Copacabana the day before in 33 degrees of heat and didn’t sweat as much.
Colleagues of mine including Cliona Foley, John O’Sullivan, Joe Harrington, Cathal Dennehy, Dave Hooper and Ryan Bailey have written brilliantly about the athletes and the games themselves, there’s nothing I could add or better by repeating the same. I went knowing that many of the athletes have made what seems doing what seems extraordinary to us ordinary to them. It’s no big deal to them they are just doing what they have trained and sacrificed a lot to do just like every other elite sports person. Cliona Foley wrote about the Egyptian table tennis player who plays with the paddle in his mouth but I’m sure if you talk to him and he doesn’t get as excited as we do, it’s just what he does, the same as any elite sports person who have honed their own craft and style.
Working with the colleagues mentioned above is one of the great things about covering an event of such magnitude but the standout was photographer Diarmuid Greene whose work illuminated the brilliance of the athletes. Throughout the week he was up earlier and back later than everyone to the point of making himself sick, he started the week sounding like a Limerick lad an ended it sounding like Jessica Rabbitte. In an age where media is changing the still frame can still says much more than the moving one but it takes the talent of the likes of Greene and his colleague Paul Mohan, who was also at the games for a short period, to capture that one image that conveys more than any among of words or TV pictures.
This morning I walked back into the office for my first day back and I have to admit it wasn’t easy. There’s a certain come-down from covering a major sports event and it’s hard to get back to the average day to day after experiencing the highs and lows. My last days work before returning was at Copacabana and it's hard to get out of the mindset of somewhere so iconic as you can imagine though my colleagues were very quick to tell me not to wear Speedos to work ever again EVER!