Memories · Sport

Olympic memories: London 2012 and London 1948, the closest any of my family has come to taking part

If things had gone to plan (and that phrase must have been uttered billions of times in the last five months) we would now be enjoying the Summer Olympics from Tokyo. Like most sporting events in this year of COVID-19 it has been postponed, in this case to July and August 2021.

In place of live Olympic action, the BBC has been replaying highlights from the 2012 games, held here in London. My son and I particularly enjoyed watching the opening ceremony replayed late one Friday night. It was as good as I had remembered, and there were plenty of treats that I had forgotten about, like Arctic Monkeys performing both “I Bet That You Look Good on the Dance Floor” and the Beatles’ “Come Together”. My son was only 7 during those Olympics, and he hadn’t seen the opening ceremony at the time.

As a family we saw a few of the events that year. We were in Hyde Park for both triathlons (the men’s and women’s races were held on different days), and in St James’s Park for the marathon on the closing day, but we only went to the Olympic Park for the Paralympics. If the children had been older, we might have made more of an effort to get tickets for other events, but we were happy that it was taking place in our hometown and that we were here for it, and happy that it all went so well.

The closest any member of my family has ever come to competing in the Olympics was also here in London, in 1948. My father and his older brother were both All-Ireland athletics champions in sprints and jumps: 100 yards, 200 yards, long jump and “hop, step and jump” as the triple jump was called back then. My father was born in 1930, so his peak years were in the 1950s. His brother was born in 1924, and he was Irish champion in the late 1940s. A few years before he died, I asked him if he had tried to qualify for London in 1948. Here’s his story, as I remember it.

The trials were in the spring of 1948. His first daughter (my oldest first cousin) had just been born. He and his wife travelled with her on the coach from Dublin, where they lived, to Kilkenny. Mother and baby would be staying for a few days with his mother (my grandmother) and he would travel back to Dublin for the trial. The night before he travelled back was another sleepless one. The child cried all night. He took the first coach back to Dublin in the morning and was in no real condition to compete.

There was only one participant in each event put forward for the games, and my uncle’s best placing was second in the long jump. He was beaten by a Nigerian prince who was studying at Trinity College Dublin, who qualified for the games.

That’s how I remember my uncle’s story anyway.

I have just gone through the Wikipedia page for the 1948 long jump and it looks like the man who qualified ahead of him might have been Adegboyega Folaranmi Adedoyin, representing Great Britain. According to his Wikipedia page he was “born in Shagamu, Ogun, the first son of the local king”, studied medicine at Queen’s University Belfast, graduating in 1942, and became the first Nigerian to compete in an Olympics final. So that ties in with my uncle’s story of a Nigerian prince, and either my uncle got the university wrong or I haven’t remembered it correctly. Either way, Adegboyega Folaranmi Adedoyin finished 7th in the long jump and 12th in the high jump at the 1948 Olympics. Maybe, if it hadn’t been for the sleep deprivation that a new-born baby can bring, that could have been my uncle instead.

Incidentally, according to what my father told me, his own chances of qualifying for the Olympics in the 1950s were scuppered for completely different reasons, something to do with a dispute between the Irish Athletics Federation and the IOC. I don’t recall the detail, but I suspect that, at the age of 21, he might not have been quite ready for Helsinki in 1952. By 1956 he was no longer competing regularly, and even if he were, I can’t imagine him travelling to the Games in Melbourne.




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