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NERVE-WRACKING My heart was pumping harder than Paul O'Donovan's as traffic nearly made us miss Ireland's golden moment

Our man Sean McGoldrick almost missed Ireland's golden moment due to Tokyo traffic

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Sean McGoldrick with gold medal rowers McCarthy and O'Donovan

Sean McGoldrick with gold medal rowers McCarthy and O'Donovan

Sean McGoldrick with gold medal rowers McCarthy and O'Donovan

I've always believed in the Roy Keane mantra 'fail to prepare, prepare to fail.'

So I was taking no chances last Thursday. Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy were poised to deliver Ireland's first gold medal in the Olympics for nine years. For Ireland it was the moment of the Games so far - and obviously not be missed.

Having been burned on a couple of occasions by the Games' notoriously unreliable bus service, I was taking no chances. Together with two colleagues we booked a taxi to take us from our hotel to Sea Forest Waterway, the venue for the Olympic rowing.

Twenty-four hours earlier the taxi journey had taken 40 minutes. But being ultra-cautious we asked to be picked up at 7.15am - the medal race was due to start at 9.50. What could possibly go wrong?

We were due to head south and we did for a couple of miles but then the driver missed a turn. At first, we assumed he was just taking a different route until we noticed we were journeying north.

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The Sunday World's Sean McGoldrick at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The Sunday World's Sean McGoldrick at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The Sunday World's Sean McGoldrick at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Mild irritation quickly escalated into blind panic when Google Maps informed us it would now take us an hour and 27 minutes to reach our destination.

The penny finally dropped with our driver - we needed to do a U-turn. But Tokyo is not Dublin and it was simply impossible to change direction in a hurry. Eventually, he found a way to do a u-turn, only for us to head straight into rush-hour traffic and a tailback which stretched for miles.

We had no choice but to sit tight hoping that the gods would smile kindly on us. Eventually, after a 2-hour 15-minute journey, we arrived at the Sea Forest Waterway less than 20 minutes before the lightweight double sculls finals.

We were too stressed to argue about the €152 fare! Paul O'Donovan's heart wasn't pumping as hard during his gold medal race as mine was for most of that trip.

Welcome to Tokyo 2021 and the first ever Olympics to be hosted where a state of emergency exists. Covid-19 cases have doubled since the Games began just over a week ago.

Little wonder, then, that there are draconian measures in place. Foreign journalists are not allowed enter restaurants or use public transport. Essentially, they are doing their best to isolate us from the local population.

In my hotel there is a separate lift for the journalists, a different entry point to the breakfast room which is itself split in two - one section for the media and the other for the rest of the guests. And we don't eat there. We take our toast and coffee back to our rooms.

We wear face masks at all times other than when we are eating or drinking. Officials are on duty in the hotel 24-7 monitoring our movements, particularly late at night when there are no Olympic events taking place.

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Sean at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo. Photos: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Sean at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo. Photos: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Sean at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo. Photos: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Japan thrives on rules and thick layers of bureaucracy. But unlike the Irish whose first instinct is to find a way around rules, the Japanese automatically adhere to every rule and evident expect visitors to follow suit.

On a personal level they are unfailingly polite and helpful. There are thousands of volunteers working at the Games. But they cannot cope with some of the logistical issues which have arisen.

The problems are rooted in the fact that the Japan organisers envisaged journalists would use the city's excellent underground transport system to get around the vast city.

But due to Covid-19 regulations this has not been possible. So instead we travel by bus or taxi. There are no dedicated lanes for Olympic traffic, there are no taxi lanes either and traffic police are nowhere to be seen. So, journeys which are supposed to take 40 minutes can take twice that time - provided the bus turns up.

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Sean at the Kokogikan Arena in Tokyo, which is the is the spiritual home of the Japanese national sport of sumo wrestling.

Sean at the Kokogikan Arena in Tokyo, which is the is the spiritual home of the Japanese national sport of sumo wrestling.

Sean at the Kokogikan Arena in Tokyo, which is the is the spiritual home of the Japanese national sport of sumo wrestling.

The empty venues are a bit surreal. But we have become used to this in Ireland during the pandemic so it's not so much of a culture shock. Inside the Olympic bubble, life pretty much goes on as at any other Games.

We still do Covid-19 saliva tests every four days. The unspoken fear is being pinged as a close contact by somebody who does test positive. This means 14 days quarantine in your hotel room.

Still, there is no show like an Olympic show. Seeing Paul O'Donovan and Fintan McCarthy cross the finish line to win the gold medal is one of those special moments.

Every 15-hour day represents a new challenge. But we'll miss the adrenaline rush when we get home.

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