The well deserved victory of John Joe Joyce has lifted Irish squad hopes at the Olympics. We arrived here on Saturday to what is a mind boggling change as you enter a different continent and written language and customs.
A few dozen Irish fans made it to the boxing arena in the Workers Gymnasium, as they call it. John Joe Joyce from Mullingar did not let them down and put in a gutsy performance against an opponent who beat him three times before, Kate Ayala of Hungary.
The first round went 3/2 in favour of Joyce and the second 5/4. At the break, his coach gave him a pep talk and got him to move more, making him more elusive for his opponent.
The tactic worked and he raced ahead 8 points to 4 at the end of the third round and the Irish got excited shouting loudly in the two-thirds full venue. The final round saw him close his position 9/5. His club mates from St. Malachys, Athy, Co. Kildare were ecstatic. Aged just 20, Joyce oozes enthusiasm as he left the ring saying hello to his friends and wearing the tricolour flag for interviews.
Born in Limerick, his family have a strong boxing tradition, but all parts of Ireland embraced him here. We met Billy Kennedy of Carrick-on-Suir and Bobby Begley on the way into the stadium, both are here with the Olympic Council and they were delighted with the outcome and said it gave a lift to everybody. Liam Walsh of Wexford, father of the Irish boxing team coach, Billy Walsh, also expressed his delight to us, but noted the strong opposition from Diaz the Dominican, his next opponent and the Cuban, so getting further will be no easy task.
He had no event ticket the day before when we met him on the plane on the way over. Others ordered them for collection there, we were also lucky to get them there. Liam was delighted with the win and reckoned there were more coming. He along with fellow Wexford men sang The Fields of Athenry for RTE’s Marty Morrissey. Jimmy Payne of Waterford managed to throw in an Up the Deise shout at the end. He will be well known for his skipathon marathon a few years back in Waterford.
So a good start in this event, Geoff Curran of Fenor, Tramore, got 21st in the eventing on Saturday, the swimmers found the going too hard and failed to get out of their heats.
Aisling Cooney, Dublin, came 7th in the 100 metre back stroke. Aged just 18 years it will be a great experience for her, and also for Melanie Nocher of Belfast, who was also placed 7. Both are B standard swimmers and got late call-ups, it gives them some idea for the future if they wish to make it to London.
Hurling on the Internet
Later that evening we managed to watch the Cork v Kilkenny hurling game via the Internet on a large screen in Paddy O’Shea’s Irish pub here. Many Cork fans and a few from Kilkenny were there. Slieverue’s Davy Walsh, ex Waterpark, was there supporting the Cats, taking a break from his writing duties in the Sunday Times. The line broke down on occasion but it was unusual to say the least to see a key match in such an atmosphere.
Many like Billy Kennedy spoke about the friendliness and helpfulness of the Chinese, the great value to be had with most meals costing just over €5, cheap taxis, the well developed transport systems and underground trains.
The distance to China and the difficulty in getting tickets puts off many but those that came are happy.
Canoeing at Shunyi
On day 3 of the Olympics proper not too many Irish were competing in Beijing so we took the trip out of town to the Canoeing and Rowing venue, 35km from the city at Shunyi. They created a slalom course for the canoeists and kayakers.
Eoin Rheinisch (pictured), the Irish competitor, was ranked fifteenth in the world for the event of Kayak Slalom. He has a strong Waterford connection with his father Julian being from Dungarvan. Still bright and hearty and in his nineties, but based in Dublin, the former gaelic player goes back home regularly. His family have kept up a sporting tradition, but in new codes.
Eoin competed in Athens, where he came 21st in the final. He is based in Leixlip, with the Salmon Leap canoe club.
Placed 17th in last year’s World Championship, he started badly in his heat here, coming 4th last of 21, saying afterwards that he had been too cautious. It was make or break for the second run in the heat and he managed to improve his time to qualify in 15th and last place.
American Scott Parsons was well ahead but hit the gate on the run into the finish. His appeal against penalty was not successful, allowing the Irishman make the semi-final. Eoin should do better next time and really go for it to make the final, which takes place later in the week.
A Campbell Walsh but not from Ireland, but competing for the GB team, also qualified. The Slovak Kauzer and favourite to win gold was well supported and won his runs easily.
We hope to get there again and see the rowers in the semi-finals. Sean Casey, Jono Devlin, Cormac Folan and Sean O’Neill have made it in the Heavyweight Coxless Fours, with Towey, Moynihan, Griffin and Archibald making the repecharge after facing a tough group.
The Chinese there helped us secure tickets and added to the atmosphere of an event not familiar to them. School and work groups came along and cheered loudly for Chinese and other competitors.
The weather stayed fine, the day before following the boxing we had a torrential downpour.
We also liked the better air outside Beijing, the city itself is very smoggy. Some Israelis said they had not seen the sun since arrival 4 days before. A cloudy smog has continued but this means lower temperatures of 29 Celsius, which is better for the athletes and fans.
We had to take two buses to get to Shunyi from our hotel in suburban Beijing. We were given detailed written instructions in Chinese as to where to change our bus and get the next one. All were really helpful.
One member of the public went out of his way to get us to the connecting bus and saw us off without even a word of English.
On arrival in Shunyi a local saw us waiting for a bus to the venue and decided to give us a lift, asking family members to wait a few minutes as they deposited us there. Such genuine hospitality would be hard to find in a large city like Dublin.
We are really impressed with how nice the locals are, whether getting a meal, or seeking a train or bus, they all do so much.
From our arrival at the airport three days ago we have had good fortune all the way and as the locals say, double happiness. They seem to like the country opened up to the west as the kids wear western T-shirts, use their mobiles and live life not too different to us in the better off areas.
Living conditions are cramped for many in this city of 16 million people, but living standards are better than expected where the average wage is €40 euro per week, but costs are very low.
To see the Great Wall is another objective in this marvellous country that is now shaking the world economically but also topping the medals table.