We thought 2020 was the maddest year ever, but 2021 has been just as mad. It’s difficult to know where to begin. But as I write, I gave myself five seconds to think of something, an event, a moment of 2021 that jumps out and that is what I am going to talk about.
It’s Sunday 8 August. I am in a small minibus in Tokyo. The roads are very quiet. And our driver is taking us back to the epicentre of the Olympic broadcast headquarters.
My flight home was due to be just before midnight that night. Among the rules and regulations of the Tokyo Olympic Games playbook, people needed to leave as soon as they were no longer needed at the games. There was a rule that competitors and their entourage needed to leave 48 hours after your event finished.
A few days earlier I proposed to push back my flight home by 24 hours. I was in no hurry home
So by Sunday 8 August – the last day – it was like a ghost town in the Olympic village. A few days earlier I proposed to push back my flight home by 24 hours. I was in no hurry home and many of my colleagues had already departed.
Kellie Harrington had made it to the Olympic final and RTÉ would need bodies on the ground. It was a wet but very humid morning when we climbed into the minibus to take us from our hotel to the venue for the list of gold medal bouts on the last day of the Olympics. The stadium was empty save for competitors, caterers, officials and media. Jacqui Hurley and myself sat beside each other as we waited for Kellie’s bout. It was afternoon in Tokyo but early morning back home.
You can imagine all the logistics and what followed in terms of press conferences
Kellie won and we all jumped and cheered before I made my way to ringside to record an interview with her. I got a call from Paula Fahey who was the RTÉ team lead to make arrangements to bring Kellie back to the broadcasting centre. You can imagine all the logistics and what followed in terms of press conferences and so on before we could manage to get Kellie literally into our minibus. There were protocols regarding COVID-19 and security issues regarding getting non media people into this huge media control centre. But it was smooth and Kellie being Kellie was as cool as a breeze in the process.
Jacqui and I volunteered to make our own way back to the media centre and allow Kellie and her two member entourage travel in our designated transport together as was the COVID-19 protocol. But they invited us onboard.
Kellie laughed and cried. Here we were on this quiet highway – Kellie with her tracksuit and medal and four other people and the driver
It was about a 40-minute journey. Jacqui scrolled through social media and showed Kellie all the reaction from home. Kellie laughed and cried. Here we were on this quiet highway – Kellie with her tracksuit and medal and four other people and the driver. And I am one of them on the phone back to base giving an estimated time of arrival so that we can inform security and so on.
And then food was mentioned. And Kellie said she was starving. She hadn’t eaten since hours before her fight – weigh in and all of that. There was a McDonald’s close to the media centre. We rung ahead ordering Big Mac meals and McFlurries galore. 2021 has been another tough year for all of us and many of us have lost family and friends and that damn COVID-19, will it ever go away?
But when I blink my eyes and think of a moment from 2021, you can’t blame me for remembering that minibus journey. Happy new year!
Countrywide on RTÉ Radio 1 enters another year with a great and loyal listenership. And while I might be the voice, the real boss who makes it all happen is Eileen Heron, an unheralded genius.