Over the past year JumpingTheGun has been providing entertaining coverage of Irish athletics through live commentary and weekly podcasts, comprising discussion and athlete interviews. Now it’s their turn to be in the hotseat. James Sullivan talks to the characters behind the enterprise, Feidhlim Kelly, Cathal Dennehy and Ronan Duggan, in the second of two parts.
James: Cathal, you have become well known for your zero tolerance towards doping. Can you express your feelings towards this issue? You had some interesting encounters in Moscow last year regarding this subject. Can you describe what happened?
Cathal: Well, about 30% of athletes at World Championship level are doping, so that’s damn interesting, and I said it’d be a crime to be sitting in those press conferences in Moscow and not ask a few questions. It’s like 30% of the competitors in your local road race taking a huge shortcut. If that happened, it’s all people would talk about or report on that day, but a lot of journalists are professional fanboys so they’re afraid to bring it up. A lot of them are so clearly awestruck by Bolt/Farah etc. that they’re afraid to upset them and just bow down, so they ask them trivial bullshit.
That’s the thing, though, it shouldn’t upset them. A question is not an accusation. The look on Carmelita Jeter’s face, as you saw James, suggested otherwise when I asked the 100m medallists if doping bans should be lengthened and more punishments brought in. What’s wrong with asking that? If you’re clean, why wouldn’t you want longer bans, or returning drug cheats banned from diamond leagues? If you’re clean, these people are stealing your living.
The world’s athletics media sat in front of Bolt, Gatlin, and Carter after that 100m in Moscow and only a German journalist and myself asked a doping question, out of about 40 questions, most of which were utter garbage. After the summer we had, the state sprinting was in, it wasn’t just the biggest question; it was the only question that mattered. Are they clean? I certainly wasn’t convinced by their answers anyway.
Other sports should talk about it too though, but they don’t. If they ever ripped the plaster off soccer, tennis, the NFL, we’d all see the sordid, oozing, bleeding, rotten mess beneath. But they’d never harm their brand by doing that.
James: Which drug cheat would you most like to go for a pint with and why?
Cathal: Ben Johnson seems like good craic. It’d have to be Mary Slaney though, because I think she…well, how can I put this….might enlighten us all a bit on what went on back then with certain people, if she got locked.
Ronan: Rachid Ramzi, the guy is a entertainer. Conserve energy in the heat? Nah run 3.32! No shame. Would be epic lols and bants on a night out I reckon.
James: In terms of popularity, in Ireland athletics struggles to compete with the big field sports of Gaelic football, hurling, soccer and rugby. What needs to be done to raise the profile of the sport and to make it more appealing to youngsters?
Feidhlim: We need more track and field for the kids and bring in the entertainment value. Forget modesty and bring in more celebrations and fun with music and fanfare. We sell ourselves short. Schools athletics is not as good as it appears. It’s pretty much a culling process and doesn’t foster a love of the sport. There needs to be goodie bags after cross country races and we have to make it cool through social media and make it interactive. There is an event for everyone and you are in control of your own destiny. We need colourful characters promoting the sport and there has to be a new connection with the media outlets from print to TV and radio. Short and snappy press releases to interactive videos. Athletics Ireland have been making improvements in these areas but as the slogan goes: A lot done, a lot more to do.
Cathal: Make every kid in the country do Community Games so they’ll enjoy the sport on their first experience. In terms of the profile, the media have a role to play but so do our best athletes. They have to be willing to talk about themselves a lot, self-promote. The media only love featuring guys like O’Lionáird because he’s brutally honest, so it makes for a good story. It’s not for every personality, but the more athletes like him who put themselves out there, the more the media will tell their story, the more kids will then hear their story and start to idolise them instead of the usual Henry Shefflins and Brian O’Driscolls.
Ronan: Nothing. Give up and continue to scrape by on our measly scraps from the top table. We need to show young people how hard the sport is and how impressive the achievements are. Kids are delighted with their Junior C title but if you show the world record for the long jump they can’t comprehend it, they think it’s savage but we seem to have just given up on making it more appealing to kids in the hope we can produce some elites, and instead want to focus on the 42 year old former smoker who wants to run 35 minutes for 5k and needs nipple cream and a water belt just to run a bath.
James: Cathal, you claimed a memorable bronze medal for Ireland in the media 800m in Moscow last year. Can you put into words the emotion of that occasion? Do you have your eyes on the gold in future championships?
Cathal: Did I not mention I’m a washed up has-been/never-was? I still reckon I could win in Beijing 2015 though. Maybe next time I’ll actually do some training, not get rat-arsed the night before, warm up this time and bring spikes. It’s not exactly a high standard.
James: Feidhlim and Ronan, how tempted are you to try knock Dennehy off his media running perch? Could we be seeing an Irish clean sweep of the medals in future major championships over the 2-lap media distance?
Feidhlim: Very tempted. I’m quite attached to the Malahide Parkrun at the moment though, but 800m is my specialist event. Watch this space.
Ronan: I wouldn’t demean myself by entering the event. Bunch of washed up has beens. I’m a never was! I refuse to be pigeoned holed with the rest of you!
James: During your live commentary of late there has been many a debate over the Twix chocolate bar. Can you explain what exactly this is all about?
Ronan: Well essentially, it’s like Des Bishop doing that immersion joke for ten years in a row. It was funny the first time and it exponentially decreased in the humour value every time thereafter.
James: Cathal, in case the CEO of Mars Inc. is reading, what message would you like to give about a possible sponsorship of JumpingTheGun productions?
Cathal: Hi CEO of Mars! Please stop your child labour practices in West Africa, and then give us loads of money, you corporate, capitalist, heartless monster, you.
James: You’ve all attended your fair share of athletics meets around Europe. What moments stand out in particular?
Feidhim: Dathan Ritzenhein’s 5000m American record along with Yelena Isinbayeva’s pole vault world record in Zurich a number of years ago. The Great British women’s 4x400m team beating the USA at the World Indoors in 2012. And lately watching Marcus Lawler compete is always guaranteed excitement. I had the pleasure of doing live commentary of his All Ireland Schools treble last summer (2013).
Cathal: The women’s 4x400m in Moscow. That was deafening, the best race I’ve watched live, and I was delighted to see the Russians beat the Americans. Russians are great, even though the rest of the western world are brainwashed not to like them.
Ronan: Not really a moment, but having ran in enough small Belgian and Dutch towns to know, the local meets on the continent are run with more precision, enjoyment and are athlete and spectator centred. They are not set up to make life easy for officials or to bore the hole off everyone. Its viewed as a day out for locals, eat some burgers, drink some beer, watch some athletics and toddle off home to make clogs out of tulips. Irish meets tend to have more athletes running than fans watching. Other than that, I went to Zurich for the Weltklasse. What a meet! Personal highlight was the crowd going ape for the Swiss 4x100m men’s team setting a national record. The crowd actually knew what was happening, was a strange one!
James: From your media experiences to date, which well renowned athletes have you found to be the most banter and why?
Feidhim: Usain Bolt for sure. I lived with him for a few weeks in 2005/6 in Teddington – true story. He’s pretty much like he is on the TV, chilled out with a good sense of humour and a penchant for takeaway food. The Kenyans are always great company and fun and I’ve lost to Daniel Komen (the real one) in scrabble, not exactly something to be proud of. Mo Farah’s good craic too – jumping off a bridge amongst other things. Domestically, 1996 1500m Olympian Shane Healy is top of the tops, great nights out partying and never a dull moment with the “big O.”
Cathal: Irish: Rob Heffernan, Ciarán Ó Lionáird, Paul Robinson. All world-class athletes but total banter merchants when they want to be. International: Ezekiel Kemboi, Stephen Kiprotich and Valerie Adams are all top craic.
Ronan: In recent times, without doubt Jason Harvey and Curtis Woods. They would sell oil to the Arabs, those two.
James: 2014 is a big year with the European Championships and Commonwealth Games taking place, among other events. What athletes, both Irish and international, are you most looking forward to watching this year?
Feidhlim: Paul Robinson and hopefully success for Collis Birmingham and the Melbourne Track Club athletes at the Commonwealth Games. I’d love to see an Irish woman go sub 2 for 800m, and the development of Anita Hinriksdottir of Iceland.
Cathal: Mark English at the Europeans in Zurich.
Ronan: English and Robinson as always! Will be looking forward to seeing what kind of times the Oregon Project produce. Not normal.
James: The last 6 months have been a big success but where to next for Jumpingthegun?
Feidhlim: Hopefully make some cash money and bring more of an audio visual to the site and to develop more internationally. Failing that, talk about how good we could have been.
Cathal: Upset the wrong person, fade out, end up on the streets, telling people stories about my glory days in the North Munster schools triple jump in a futile bid to earn a few cents to feed my crippling heroin addiction.
Ronan: Get overtaken by a slicker, more professional, better looking and younger model.
James: Thanks for your time, congrats on the success to date and keep up the great work.
Cathal: Success…what success…
Ronan: Don’t ever call this number again
This is part 2 of this interview with JumpingTheGun. Click here for part 1.