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Olympic Games 2016, Rio de Janeiro, Julianne's Experience

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Games of the XXXI Olympiad
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
My Reflective Experience

When I started working alongside Johnson McEvoy with the High Performance Boxing Unit in the lead up to London 2012, the thought of attending the 31st Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro was a distant dream! After the success and excitement of London 2012 it became central in my ambitions and when this goal became a reality the excitement was incomparable!
Having travelled with the squads for the last few years I was used to “the competition mode” and how the boxers’ laid back joking attitudes became intensely focused during competition.The Olympic qualification period was a whirlwind of tournaments, nerves, mileage and more nerves. This is extremely demanding of any individual, especially those competing within strict weight classes and in a high-intensity contact sport. The journey was all worth it however, when we finally had our 8 strong Olympic boxing squad qualified as part of Team Ireland, jetting off to Rio. An experienced squad described by many as Ireland’s best boxing team, “absolutely jam packed with talent” and laden with World, European and previous Olympic medalists.

When we arrived in Rio in mid July we launched into a 10-day training camp with the home nation Brazil and Team USA. This training camp (like many before it) included individual technical final prep and “polishing off” sparring sessions. Injury-wise, we had departed Ireland with two persistent “niggling” injuries and one acute injury. By the end of the camp the whole team were injury free and flying fit for competition. During the camp it was important to have rest and recovery days, thus we headed out as a team to some of the local sites; the bustling Copacabana beach, sky high Christ the Redeemer and the stunning Selaron steps.

Finally the day arrived where we were moving to the Olympic Village. At this stage we linked up with a good portion of Team Ireland, including the rest of the physiotherapy team. I was part of an extremely talented, dedicated and supportive Physiotherapy team specially selected to work with Ireland’s 2016 Olympians. I shared an apartment with a few of these fantastic Physio’s whom I found to be great support and entertainment as the Games progressed.

The day of the boxing draw is always a very nervous occasion, who was seeded? When will the members of the team box? Who will the box and at which stage of the competition? Unfortunately for the team we were dealt a huge blow when one of our boxers was named in the media as having tested positive for a banned substance. None of the team knew who this individual was and the coaches were utterly in the dark, being informed by AIBA during the draw. In order to maintain the focus of those that would be competing we kept to our normal pre-competition schedule in the days that followed.
Thankfully our Team Ireland flag bearer was not going to be competing on the opening day and was still able to have the honour of carrying the tri-colour into the Maracanã Stadium, Paddy was elated! The evening of the opening ceremony we all floated about outside the Team Ireland building for photos- the boxing squad with our flag bearer, the physio and medical team, the list goes on. There was a palpable exhilaration in the air. Walking out into the Maracanã Stadium, where the World Cup final was held only 2 years previously, was just phenomenal. The stadium was electric with Brazilian dance fever, pounding drums, screaming spectators, the overwhelming Olympic buzz! For me personally the Opening Ceremony night was hilarious. Katie Taylor and I posed for shots and joked around with other teams getting photos with them in their native dress. After Katie left with some of the other athletes I raced around the stadium with our physiotherapy-lead Aidan, and one of the team doctors. The highlight had to be when Aidan coaxed me to pose in front of the Brazilian Olympic team as they made their long awaited entrance to the packed stadium. As I posed the team came ever closer (Aidan still snapping eagerly with my phone) as I became engulfed by the Brazilian Olympians and then danced with the band that followed-just Brilliant!
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The next day we awoke to the next chapter of our trip, August 6th, the Olympic Games had begun! The 10 days that followed were just an unthinkable blur. No-one could have dreamt the nightmare that was to follow for our boxing squad. The aspirations of countless medals quickly faded as it was apparent this was going to go down as one of the worst and most forgettable Olympic Games in boxing history. Allegations of corruption and “robbery” decisions made the news worldwide, as countless boxers from around the world had their Olympic dream taken from them. So many people both at home and in Rio kept telling me how much I would learn and gain from being in the middle of such events. But it was useless… I witnessed first hand the talent of our Irish boxers, how had they trained, and how much they sacrificed to compete for a medal at these Olympics. In my mind it was utter cruelty that unfolded.

Thankfully the O’Donovan brothers lifted the Olympic spirit of Team Ireland when they crossed the finish line and secured a silver medal in the men’s rowing doubles. Their hilarious interviews and joking attitudes were a tonic for us all. The buzz was back! Annalise Murphy’s success in the sailing a few days later was extraordinary. To come from an agonising 4th place finish in London four years previously and now to win a silver medal at a weather tampered Games, the whole camp was overjoyed for her.

Secondary to our boxing team finishing earlier than expected we had free time to attend some of the other Olympic events. Off to the main stadium we went where we attended numerous events from “Super Saturday” and Mo Farah winning a consecutive 10,000m final, the women’s Heptathlon final crowning a new Belgian Olympic Champion (Nafi Thiam) while Jessica Ennis-Hill got silver and the Men’s Long Jump final. What a buzz! The nights that followed included the 100m men’s final, 200m final, countless jumps and numerous relays including the men’s final where Usain Bolt obtained his “treble treble”. While team USA did not win in these events the women’s relay team were allowed to “ghost race” for their place in the final and won that Gold! We lost count of the amount of times the American anthem was blasted through the stadium speakers. On our last visit to the stadium we were there to cheer on Thomas Barr in his 4x400m hurdle final. After his explosive first place finish in his semi-final heat there were countless members of Team Ireland present in the mid-day Rio heat cheering him on. What a fantastic infectious attitude this man has.

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The closing days of the Olympic games included a trip to the Modern Pentathlon venue in Deodoro to cheer on Natalya to a consecutive Olympic Games top 10 finish and a celebratory night or two with my fellow physio’s.
The night of the closing ceremony was cool and wet but it couldn’t dampen the spirits in the team. The 31st Olympiad was closed with a dazzling display of Rio’s best and an electric entertaining performance from Tokyo’s Olympic committee, including their Prime Minister taking part in a “Super Mario” stunt. Upon our return to Dublin airport the crowds had gathered to welcome home Ireland’s Olympic Hero’s. What a whirlwind the previous 5 weeks had been with such a phenomenal group of individuals. As Rio 2016 Olympic Games came to a close one chapter was complete, but, as always in sport, the pages keep turning and its straight onto the next!