Having raced in Europe nine out of the last eleven seasons, I was excited yesterday to finally be arriving in Ireland for the first time. The Cork City Sports International Athletics event is one steeped in tradition with many famous New Zealanders having competed, and is a meet I had always hoped I could fit into my schedule. After arriving from our trans-Atlantic journey shortly before noon, the volunteer driver informed us of a reception we athletes were invited to attend. The reception was to be held at the Collins Military Barracks, home to the biggest military parade square in Europe. The inaugural Cork City Sports event held in 1952 was a competition between local Irish athletes, the Irish Military, and a team of athletes from the United States Air Force based in the UK. Ever since, the local Irish military has maintained a strong relationship with the event, volunteering their soldiers and resources for assisting the set-up and running of the meet.
The Army General, the Cork City Mayor, and the President of the Cork City Sports Organizing committee each addressed the attendees (consisting of military personal, sponsors, volunteers, local council members, and guest athletes) with great sincerity and appreciation for the fine effort of putting together the sixtieth successive edition of the Athletics International. Having been a part of a rushed effort to put on a track meet myself (after the Feb, 2011 Christchurch earthquake), I couldn’t help but have my “athlete blinders” removed. The speeches emphasized how much time and effort had taken place behind the scenes to make this event possible despite the dire economic situation that Ireland is facing at the moment (The unemployment rate in Ireland is 14.7%, compared to 9.1% in the U.S).
So many times as an athlete I have turned up to a professional (or amateur for that matter) track meet thinking how am I going to run? What am I going to get out of this experience? I wonder what kind of food they’ll be serving? What’s the weather going to be like? This reception was a great reminder of the community effort that goes into putting on a track meet. Not only are there the volunteer officials we see out on the field (and track) of competition, but all those helping raise finances, selling tickets, organizing transportation, making sure there is enough toilet paper in the locker rooms, etc…
We, as guest international athletes, provide entertainment for the fans, inspiration for the next generation, and competition for the local athletes. The meet director is happy to provide prize money and pay for our flights, lodging and food to compensate for those said services. Economically speaking, what we bring to the table is, more often than not, less than what we take away. The sad reality is that our sport is not in it’s glory years, and many annual track meets like this Cork event are trying as best as possible to hang on to a great tradition. I hope that as I step out onto the track tomorrow afternoon that I, along with my fellow athletes, can compete in a way that entertains and inspires beyond what is expected of us. This is the best way—and the only way I know—to thank the Cork community for allowing us to be a part of the great tradition that is the Cork City Sports International Athletics meeting.