Tuesday, 20 May 2008


We hear and read a lot about courage in sport. Courage, determination, sheer bloody-minded cussedness, going the extra mile - they are all qualities which make for dramatic stories and eye-catching headlines. And occasionally, the courage, the determination, the cussedness come from such a rare stock that no headline seems adequate.

In Northern Ireland on Saturday a young man called Michael Dunlop won a motorcycle race in such exceptional circumstances that it deserved headlines far beyond the shores of his native island.

Michael, 20, is the son of a motorcycle legend Robert Dunlop who was killed in practice for the North West 200, an annual series of road races held on an 8.9 mile course linking the towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine. Robert was the most successful rider in the history of the races as well as being a multiple winner at the Isle of Man TT where his late brother Joey holds the record of 26 victories. Robert's death on Thursday evening was a huge shock, even for a sporting community well versed in the unforgiving nature of motorbike road racing. It made the odd down-page paragraph in Britain, but in Northern Ireland there was no other story on the next day's front pages while south of the border RTE's afternoon radio phone-in discussed no other topic.

Robert and his two sons, William and Michael, were all due to race in the 250cc event on Saturday. Michael was uncertain whether to take part but William was determined to ride, convinced that his dad would have wanted nothing else. So Michael decided to go ahead too "out of support for my brother." Just before the start, William's bike failed and Michael was on his own.

What followed was one of the most astonishing pieces of sporting theatre I have witnessed. For five laps of this thrilling circuit Michael was dicing for the lead. Five times he sped past the spot where his father had died. He took the lead, lost it, and then on the very last lap surged to the front again. This was no lap of honour; it was full-on tyre-squelching stuff against gritty, experienced racers. The chequered flag waved on victory for Michael Dunlop, and if you want to know what a sporting victory can mean to one man and his family, this one nudged the bar a little further upwards.

The media in Britain missed an incredible story. In Northern Ireland, it was wall to wall, with brilliant TV coverage by BBC NI leading the way. Check it out at http://www.bbc.co.uk/northernireland/nw200/watch/highlights.shtml?year=2008

1 comment:

Larssony said...

Just watched the clip and read a bit about the story on the web... Really touching...