The World Youths Track and Field Championships in Marrakech produced spectacular and awesome competition on each of the five days. The organisation of the championships was superb, with all the athletes housed in five star hotels, sharing two to each air conditioned room, a far cry from the effort of the Olympic Council of Ireland whose standards decreed that five to a room in Lignano was acceptable.
The temperature in Marrakech was hot, 35C – 40C every day, definitely not what we in Ireland are used to. Water was consumed by the gallon by everyone.
Ciaran O’Lionaird made a big impression in the 1,500m. He ran confidently in the third of three heats, leading through 400m, and then settled into the leading pack. He made his move for home with 200m remaining, and was still leading 60m from the line. He was passed close to the line, but easily qualified in third place.
The effects of two weeks of total concentration, one week at the European Youth Olympics, followed closely by a week at the World Youth championships, finally caught up with him in the final. A first lap of just under 57 seconds left all but the African runners struggling, and the race, in effect, was over. However, a tenth place finish was a very satisfactory performance considering all the circumstances. To be tenth in the world is a major accomplishment. After all, how many other sportspeople in Ireland – in any sport – are ranked as high as that in their own particular sport?
The serious business of swopping gear was almost as interesting as the competition itself. David McCarthy was observed in some very tough bargaining with two Ethiopians, with a third called in for added assistance. He eventually ended up with the prized tracksuit top, turned around and gave the Irish party a big thumbs-up, and a huge smile on his face!
However, an even more prized item of clothing, belongining to one of the Americans, later became available. But, with no more Irish gear to swap, it became necessary for Dave to part with the prized Ethiopian top to another Irish team member in order to conclude the American deal! Life can be so cruel at times.
Anyone would think their only purpose going to Marrakech was to swop gear!
The closing ceremony was a spectacular affair, but did not take place in the stadium. Instead all competitors and officials were ferried on a fleet of buses to Chez Ali, about half an hour’s drive from the hotels To say the food was different would be an understatement, while the fireworks, the musket fire and horse riding was superb. There was even a ‘Flying Carpet’!
A local volunteer was attached to each team, and Hind was superb with the Irish team. A third level student of English she enjoyed the experience tremendously and was visibly overcome with emotion when the time came to say good-bye. By all accounts the other volunteers became very much part of the occasion, saying that the week went all too fast, and wishing it would never end.
While the Irish team had all their expenses covered, spare a thought for the New Zealand team. A group of 30, one of the bigger teams at the championhips, had to pay their own way to Marrakech. Each member had to fork out NZ$5,800 for the privilege of competing at the World championships. On the way to Marrakech their plane was delayed for 4 hours on the runway in Singapore before they were taken off and their journey resumed the following day.
Their journey home involved flights from Marrakech to Casablanca, on to London, then on to Tokyo, where there was an eight hour wait before the plane to Sydney, and then on to Auckland. Serious commitment on their part.
Incidentally, New Zealand has the same population as Ireland and they were competing out of season. Several athletes could not afford to travel, but yet they could produce a team of thirty, while Ireland could manage just four. Something just does not add up.
Well done ot each of the four Irish athletes, Ciaran O’Lionaird, David McCarthy, Laura Reynolds and Kelly Proper. And full marks to the management team of Bernie Alcorn and Dr. Brendan O’Brien for their professionalism throughout the week. Gallery