September 2013 wicklowvoice.ie
with Brian Quigley
1998 and the year of the French – let’s hope we’ve learned lessons
This summer marked the 15th anniversary of one of the biggest sporting events to take place – or more accurately pass through – county Wicklow. July 12, 1998 saw stage 1 of the world’s most celebrated cycle race start and finish in Dublin and pass through Wicklow in the process. The race went down the N11 as far as Arklow, then took in Avoca, Rathdrum and Laragh before going up the Wicklow Gap, to Hollywood and then back to Dublin. It was a great spectacle. Supple like a snake or a string of pearls, the peloton splitting around roundabouts making wristwatch shapes. Simulating helix patterns around hairpin bends. The radial-spoke twinkle and domino shuffle, the puppetand-string routine that reeled the breakaway in, jerseys interchanging like a Rubik cube. The Garden County shown off via camera from helicopters and motorbikes to a world stage. An event like that makes you realise that sport can be art, and can inspire art – candidates for any list of greatest singles and albums in pop music history, namely Kraftwerk’s ‘Tour de France’ single and album released in 1983 and 2003 respectively, were inspired by this classic race. I’m not naive enough to suggest we ignore the uglier side of the Tour de France. The 1998 version of the event had more drug scandals than most other years, with some critics dubbing the event a ‘pharmacy on wheels’. There’s an age-old debate about how real is elite sport that we have served up to us on television, and does it really matter so long as the end-product is an engaging spectacle. We don’t discount albums by our favourite bands or well-written books on this basis so should we with sport? Well, yes we should. For our own sake and the sake of our children who may be inspired by what they see on television. We should be aware that with a natural talent for your sport and a lifetime of hard work and training, you can reach the pinnacle without needing any short-cuts. Look at our own Katie Taylor, or Andy Murray this year at Wimbledon. No short-cuts, just dedication,
Chris McCann’s picture from Irish corner on Alpe d’Huez during this year’s Tour De France. Katie Taylor and Gary O’Toole are two great Wicklow Olympians. vision, talent and honest hardwork. Likewise, in my opinion, with Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, their natural physique so suited to their events that with the hard work to compliment it put in, they were destined to be champions (although the recent drug scandals that have befallen athletics make me nervous). I was rooting for Murray this year and delighted that he delivered where Henman had failed. Growing up you watched Wimbledon and dusted down your racket when it was over. You watched the Tour de France and were keener to get out on your bike in its aftermath than you would be at any other time of the year. When you saw Wicklow’s Eamon Darcy on the Ryder Cup team you wanted to try golf. Swimming in Wicklow was given a great boost in the mid1980s when its relay team won two Community games gold medals in 1895 and 1986, spurred by the success of Gary O’Toole who trained assiduously in his native county until he literally outgrew the
local swimming pools. Gary went to on to win silver at the 1989 European Championships and represent Ireland at the Seoul and Barcelona Olympics and has served with distinction as an expert analyst for RTE’s swimming coverage at subsequent Games. Gary is also to be commended for his bravery in helping expose abuses in his sport, not an easy thing to have done. Fionnuala Britton will have encouraged some of the next generation of Wicklow boys and girls to take up running after seeing her on the gigantic stage that was the London 2012 Olympics. And when Ed Joyce from Bray made the England cricket team, it will have no doubt inspired people to take up the sport, even more so now that Ireland is progressing nicely towards the coveted Test status. And of course there’s enough paper in the world to list all of Wicklow’s great sportsmen in either football, rugby or GAA. Bray also had the distinction of being represented by Padraic Moran at the London 2012
Let’s hope that the recent success of NICOLAS Roche and Dan Martin, will inspire a new generation of Irish cyclist and that they won’t be tempted to take the Lance Armstrong route.
Paralympics. Padraic is an elite Irish paralympic athlete and a former World Champion in the sport of boccia (a precision ball sport related to bowls, boccia was originally designed for people with cerebral palsy but can be played by people with other disabilities affecting motoring skills). Padraic is currently training towards the 2016 Rio Paralympics. Let’s hope that the recent success of Stephen Roche’s son and nephew, Nicolas and Dan Martin, will inspire a new generation of Irish cyclist and that they won’t be tempted to take the Lance Armstrong route. Wicklow of course has a great history of cycling beyond 1998’s Le Tour and has produced Olympians Peter Crinnion and Peter Doyle amongst others. Ireland’s first professional Shay Elliot, although born in Dublin, lived in Enniskerry, and the race that bears his name takes place in the Wicklow Mountains every Spring. If anyone wants to discover more about Wicklow’s great cycling history, they should drop into Frank Duff’s
pub on Bray’s Main Street – you can’t miss the Champs Elysee sign on the front. I read an article a few years ago written by a couple of British cycling enthusiasts who covered the Tour de France route in a camper van just after the actual event. They were using bikes slightly but not too inferior to the professionals, sleeping in the van and eating quite a lot of jam sandwiches but they still covered the course in a respectable time. Cycling doesn’t need drugs, whether it’s EPO or anything else, nor does any sport. Drugs crept into sport in a big way during the Cold War when the prestige of winning on the sports field replaced the need for victory on the battlefield, and the battle to eradicate drug cheats has raged ever since. Producing real heroes and role models is the best way to continue this fight – let’s hope that our new sporting stars in Wicklow decide to go that way. Brian Quigley is a native of Wicklow.