As the Olympics are well underway in the marvelous city of Rio de Janeiro all the way over in Brazil, we cast our minds back 20 years to the summer of 1996 and the troubled Community Games out in Mosney.
At a glance, there aren’t many similarities between the two events. One is situated in an area of stunning natural beauty and populated by beautiful people; the other is in Meath. But both venues have more in common you would imagine.
The water in Rio is only slightly warmer than the Irish Sea and even with reports of it being heavily polluted, it is still less radioactive then the waters off the Mosney coast. The famous Copacabana beach, like Mosney, is bookended to the south by a formidable army barracks. And while it’s not as catchy as The Girl From Ipanema, Bagatelle’s The Redcoat From Mosney did reach number 43 in the Irish charts back in 1985.
Rio is synonymous with poverty and violence. Favelas (slums) dominate the city and often sit side-by-side with cantons of grotesque wealth. The similarities often remind Irish visitors of the close proximity Mosney had to the crime and poverty stricken slums of Laytown and the bad bit of Bettystown.
The Games themselves were plagued from the off by rumours of systematic and strategic doping by the Meath team, often with the knowledge and consent of the athletes and their glory hungry parents.
Some counties called for them to be banned altogether but the organizing committee chickened out, correctly fearing that the banning of the hosts would lead to the cancelling of the games.
Team Meath were given preferential treatment from the offset – Special K instead of the
regulation and sugar-coated Frosties, chalets with toilets, lunch laced with EPO, and anabolic steroids disguised as Smarties for snacks. And it didn’t stop there.
The sleep patterns of rivals were broken up. The chalets of Louth athletes competing for medals against their Royal counterparts were targeted in the early hours the night before the big race.
Local youths would congregate outside and blare out Spaceman by Babylon Zoo on a loop, ramping up the torture by playing some of their own guitar based efforts if the rival athlete was clear favourite.
Urine samples were taken from nursing home residents in Laytown and Bettystown to mask the doping and many of the Royal athletes were actually praised by testers for being able to achieve such quick times when seemingly heavily sedated by sleeping tablets.
In these pre-social media times it wasn’t an uncommon sight to see moustached Meath children competing in any under-12 event or indeed getting into discos. However, it was an uncommon sight to see these kids complete the 100m Breast Stroke quicker than a speedboat or smash the World Record for the High and Long Jumps (from standing positions). A look at the times for the under-14 track and field highlight how far ahead of the pack Team Meath were:
100m Sprint Time in seconds
- Peadar Aspell (Meath) 07.56
- Michelle Cowley (Louth) 14.26
- Johnny Fox (Sligo) 15.11
200m Sprint Time in seconds
- Peadar Aspell (Meath) 06.59
- Mickey Johnson (Louth) 25.44
- Pauline Doherty (Cork) 25.46
But it was too much. The world media took notice and a national boycott of the Games in 1997 saw widespread reform and a crackdown on doping. Thankfully Irish sport has been clean as a whistle since.