The Winter Olympics barely registers on the Irish sporting radar; just ask members of Team Ireland who appear to be mostly based in the US. Nevertheless, I’ve always found it to be a wonderful spectacle, French wardrobe malfunctions aside. (Ed – Careful, you’re skating on thin ice!)
This year’s event in Pyeonchang has been no different and as someone who spent four years living in South Korea, I’ve been impressed with how the Koreans, who can be awkward when it comes to these events, have embraced the international community and their cousins from the North. There has been plenty to warm the heart, including Brendan Newby’s post-Halfpipe interview with RTÉ’s Darren Frehill.
My favourite Winter Olympics events usually involve some form of sledding, however. I’ve always fancied myself as a professional ‘sledder’ you see. Blame John Candy, ‘Cool Runnings’ and childhood snow days spent sliding down the hill in Sarsfield Park on my backside with the aid of a black bin bag.
There’s also something slightly ridiculous about athletes hurtling down shoots of ice while sporting spandex and flimsy crash helmets. While the commentary on RTE can be a little suspect, the very nature of competitions such as the rather appropriately named, Skeleton, ensures that there will be drama when it comes time to hand out the medals.
Last week, a South Korean chap by the name of Yun Sung-Bin took the event to a whole new level. Wearing an Iron Man mask, the 19-year-old claimed gold in front of his home crowd and became the first athlete outside of North America and Europe to win an Olympic sliding medal (yes, that’s the technical description for such events).
Sung-Bin’s triumph got me thinking. The Olympic champion comes from Namhae at the very southern tip of the peninsula. It’s not especially cold there; in fact, temperatures are usually in the high teens and above from April to October. The lack of winter sports facilities coupled with the fact that soccer, baseball and Taekwondo rank way above Skeleton in terms of participation in South Korea makes Sung-Bin’s feat all the more impressive.
There’s a lesson for us here in Ireland. Maybe it’s time to forget all this debate over GAA fixtures, player welfare and rushing around in Garda cars to make Sigerson matches a lá Kieran Molloy and instead focus on how we can take advantage of our increasingly cold winters to improve or even qualify for Team Ireland ahead of Beijing 2022!