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Dublin: 12°C Saturday 8 May 2021

Alberto Salazar's ghostwriter speaks and more of the week's best sportswriting

Also this week – Eunan O’Kane resurfaces, and what Ireland can learn from England as the dust settles on another World Cup failure.

1.I believe that Ireland need to play a little bit more like Leinster do under Stuart [Lancaster].  Ireland need to know how to react quickly when the opposition makes a mistake or is stopped, the way the All Blacks do. I don’t think enough time is spent on that unstructured set-up with Ireland. I wonder if Andy Farrell, given his time with Stuart previously, will do more of that when he takes over from Joe with Ireland?’

That is now the question. And as Shuttleworth at the conference would say, the answer is in the question. Ireland need to become more “comfortable in chaos” as Shuttleworth, Jones, and Lancaster describe it, even if it leads to some dips like England experienced in 2018. 

England’s initial difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity, as Kieran Shannon of the Irish Examiner explains what went wrong for Ireland at the Rugby World Cup. 

2. Like countless others who have departed these shores, he maintains close links to home in ways while wavering in others. Having been raised as an Irish Catholic and attending Catholic schools, moving to the UK soon signalled a move to Humanism.

That explains so much Eunan O’Kane’s mentality. He blames no power for his current plight and looks to no one else to resolve it.

“When I moved away to England if someone asked me what religion I was, I would have said Catholic even though I hadn’t been to church for three or four years.”

“It was only when I met my now wife, Laura, I actually learned what the term humanist was. When she talked about it I just felt, that is what I am. I don’t really believe there is a god. I have been a humanist for the last few years without knowing the term or realising it.

“I was 23, 24. Around that time I would officially call myself a humanist. Previous to that, I was one without knowing it.

“I live by a set of values to be a good person the same as the majority of the world. There is no practice as such, I go about life the same as everyone else.

Irish international Eunan O’Kane speaks to Maurice Brosnan of

eunan-okane Eunan O'Kane at an Irish training session in 2017. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

3. I wasn’t sure how to answer then, and despite the USADA investigation and verdict, I’m not sure how I’d answer now. A bond had built between Alberto and me. He had earned my trust, and I wanted to believe him. At the same time, I was aware of the suspicions shadowing Salazar through much of his career, and I wasn’t naive about PEDs. Around this same time, in fact, I had broken the story on the infamous EPO cheat, Eddy Hellebuyck. I understood something of the seductive power of performance-enhancing drugs, and their toxic by-products of rationalization and self-deception.

For all of Alberto’s frankness, all of his unflinching honesty, I knew he wasn’t telling me everything, especially about his coaching. We were friends, but just as I profited from the stories he told me, Alberto stood to gain from the narrative he shaped through me.

I finally decided to keep faith in Alberto. I sensed that if—when—any darkness eventually surfaced, it would reflect the driven, divided human being I had come to know and respect. As a writer, a journalist, my job was to portray the person in full; a gifted, flawed, deeply spiritual man who, as contestant and mentor, had transformed our sport. What Alberto Salazar had shared with me—his triumphs, failures, and self-immolating passion for distance running—deserved to stand next to all he tried to keep secret.

How close is too close? The relationship between ghostwriter and subject is the subject of this intriguing piece on Alberto Salazar, by John Brant of Runner’s World.

 4. When Bakhtiari arrived in Green Bay in May for organized team activities, he noticed that the roster wasn’t the only area to undergo renovations. One of LaFleur’s early priorities after being hired in January was to update parts of the Packers’ facility. Walls that had been painted a dull tan or green were now a stark white. Green-and-yellow decals had been replaced by metallic logos.

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In the offensive line room, photos of Packers legends Forrest Gregg and Jerry Kramer had once hung prominently; in their place sat framed action shots of all five current starting linemen. “When I first got here, this looked more like look a museum,” Bakhtiari says. “Beautiful, appreciating all the history. Kind of like ‘Don’t touch,’ with things roped off. Now, it’s more like we’re gonna honor our history, but we are about the guys in this room right now, and we’re gonna show that.” 

 The Packers are BACK. The Ringer’s Robert Mays explains why. 

austria-2-hour-marathon-attempt Eliud Kipchoge after his record-breaking marathon time. Source: Ronald Zak

5. Some will shrug their shoulders. Sport and technology have, after all, always gone hand in hand. A friend of mine in cycling points out that Ineos are using wheels from Germany, costing £6,000 a pair, that are lighter and stiffer than those used by other teams. That is an undoubted advantage. My friend also suggests modern bicycle tyres are worth 40 seconds on Alpe d’Huez over those from 20 years ago, another sign of how technology inevitably rewrites the rules and the record books.

But athletics is supposed to be different. With the odd exception – such as the switch away from cinder tracks – technological innovation tends to be subtle and incremental. Tell someone you are a three-hour marathon runner and that means much the same whether you did it in 1985 or 2015. But remarkable as Kipchoge’s run in Vienna undoubtedly was we have no way of knowing how much was down to him – and how much was the impact of his shoes.

The Guardian’s Sean Ingle explains why athletics is the latest realm that needs to regulate to catch up with the future. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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