London 2012 –
When the clock strikes twelve and Christmas Day is with us, let us also remember two other dates, which at this time seem far away –
The Olympic Games 27 July-12 Aug 2012
Will be but 580 Days away
The Paralympic Games 29 Aug-9 Sept 2012
Will be but 613 Days away
The thoughts of all Irish fans will of course turn to those two big occasions. Who, if anyone, we wonder will bring glory to Ireland … and themselves …. By capturing Olympic Gold?
Could it be one of the boxers? Paddy Barnes ? John Joe Nevin? Joe Ward? Katie Taylor or that fine Olympian Kenny Egan
What about Athletics? Derval O’Rourke comes to your mind? David Gillick perhaps?
Maybe the 3 day eventing or show jumping teams can strike Gold?
How about swimmer Grainne Murphy? Or canoeist Eoin Rheinisch?
Cycling’s Felix English or Daniel Martin?
Paralympic hero from Beijing Jason Smyth or perhaps Michael McKillop?
Let us though for the moment not “look forward” but instead turn back to the past.
Here from the annals of, and with thanks to , the Olympic Council of Ireland, is a potted history of Ireland’s glorious and on one occasion at least, not so glorious past for though we remember great deeds we must also learn from that occasion in 1996 .
This story begins in 1922 J.J. Keane, then one of Irelands leading sports administrators was elected to the International Olympic Committee ; it is now generally accepted that the ‘Irish Olympic Council’ as it was known at the outset, came to existence in 1922 but due to the loss of the minutes of the early meetings of the Council, the exact date that year is now not known.
Ireland was given formal recognition as an independent nation in the Olympic Movement at the IOC session in Paris in 1924 and it was at the Paris Games that Ireland made its first appearance in an Olympic Games as an independent nation.
No medals in the sporting events were won by Ireland at the Paris games but Jack Yeats was awarded an Olympic silver medal for his painting “Swimming” in the Olympic Arts division and Oliver St. John Gogarty was awarded a bronze medal for his “Ode to the Tailteann Games” in the Literature division.
Whether representing Ireland or other countries, Irish-born athletes now have the remarkable distinction of winning Olympic gold, silver or bronze medals in Athens 1896, Paris 1900, St. Louis 1904, Athens 1906, London 1908, Stockholm 1912, Antwerp 1920, Paris 1924, Amsterdam 1928, Los Angeles 1932, Berlin 1936, Helsinki 1952, Melbourne 1956, Tokyo 1964, Moscow 1980, Los Angeles 1984, Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000.
The first Irish-born winner of an Olympic gold medal was John Pius Boland, a native of Dublin, who won the Tennis Singles at Athens in 1896 and he was to win a second Olympic gold medal when he partnered Fritz Traun in the doubles.
For many years Boland’s Olympic wins were credited to the United Kingdom or Great Britain but following intensive research by the Olympic historians Ernest Bland, Dr. Ferene Maze and David Guiney, John Pius Boland is now shown as having represented Ireland.
Following Boland many famous Irish-born sportsmen were to win Olympic gold medals, notably John Flanagan with three wins in succession in the Hammer, Matt McGrath and Paddy Ryan also in the Hammer, Martin Sheridan who won Olympic gold medals in the discus at St. Louis in 1904, Athens in 1906 and London in 1908, Pat McDonald, a winner of two gold medals and all, however, were representing the United States.
Other Irish-born winners of Olympic gold medals include Robert Kerr who was representing Canada, Kennedy MacArthur who was representing South Africa and Tim Ahearn, George Con O’Kelly, Edward Barrett, Noel Mary Purcell, John G. Heresford, Denis St. G. Daly, Joshua Milner, Frederick Barrett and Terence Launders all of who represented the United Kingdom or Great Britain.
Perhaps the outstanding Irish-born personality of the early years of the Olympic games was Tom Kiely, who won the all-round Championship, the forerunner of the modern Decathlon, at the Games in St. Louis in 1904.
As with John Pius Boland, his victory was claimed by the United Kingdom or Great Britain but the Olympic historians Dr. Derene Meso and David Guiney have now established beyond argument that Kiely was, in fact, representing Ireland and indeed paid his own expenses in travelling from Ireland to St. Louis.
Peter O’Connor and Con Leahy who won gold medals at the Intercalated Olympic games at Athens in 1906 made their own spirited protest on the claims they were part of the United Kingdom or Great Britain. They did this by raising an Irish Flag to the top of the 200 ft. mast which dominated the stadium in Athens.
In 1928 Ireland as an independent nation had its first Olympic gold medal at Amsterdam with Dr. Pat O’Callaghan’s unexpected victory in the Hammer event. At the time he was barely out of the novice class and he had been included in the Irish Team mainly to gain experience of top-class competition.
Over the years he was to develop into one of the world’s greatest hammer-throwers and he demonstrated this by winning his second Olympic gold medal at Los Angeles in 1932.
This in fact brought a very special moment in Olympic history for Ireland. Within the short space of an hour Ireland won two Olympic gold medals on Monday, August 1st , 1932.
The first was won by Robert Morton Newburgh Tisdall, always known as simply Bob, who, although he was born in Ceylon, was thoroughly Irish by his lineage. His Olympic victory had the element of a fairy tale about it.
Early in 1932, he wrote to General Eoin O’Duffy, then the President of the Irish Olympic Council, and asked to be considered for the Irish Olympic Team in the 400 metres hurdles and he also confessed that he had not previously run in the event.
O’Duffy was immensely taken by the latter and later invited Tisdall to compete in a special Olympic trial at Croke Park in Dublin. Tisdall failed to make the qualifying time but O’Duffy gave him another chance and Bob Tisdall qualified for the Irish Team by winning the National 440 yards hurdles title at the Irish Championships also at Croke Park.
After winning his preliminary Olympic heat in Los Angeles, Bob Tisdall equalled the Olympic record of 52.8 seconds in the semi-finals and then in the final, despite stumbling at the final hurdle, he won the Olympic gold medal in 51.7 seconds which would have been a world record but for the fact that he had knocked over the last hurdle and under the laws prevailing at the time this ruled out recognition of a world record.
Ireland s next Olympic medal came at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. By now the Lord Killanin had become President of the Olympic Council and had also become the IOC member in Ireland. Significantly one of his first moves was to have the name of the Council changed from the Irish Olympic Council to the Olympic Council of Ireland which, of course, ensured that the name Ireland appeared in the title.
At Helsinki John McNally took a silver medal in boxing and at Melbourne four years later, Ireland had a rich harvest of five medals, one gold, one silver and three bronze.
Ron Delany was Irelands gold medal winner in the 1,500 metres. After qualifying comfortably in his semi-final he ran an astute race in the final and finished it with a glorious burst of speed which in addition to the gold medal gave him an Olympic record of 3.41.2 .
The other medals all came in boxing with silver for Fred Tiedt, and bronze for Tony Byrne, Freddie Gilroy and John Caldwell.
Boxer Jim McCourt took an Olympic bronze medal at Tokyo in 1964, Hugh Russell added another in boxing at Moscow in 1980 and David Wilkins and Jamie Wilkinson won silver medals at the 1980 Olympic Yachting events, which were staged in Tailinn.
John Treacy won a silver medal at Los Angeles in 1984 and Wayne McCullough was to add another silver medal in boxing at the Games of 1992 in Barcelona.
But the memorable moment of the Barcelona Olympics was the victory of Michael Carruth of Dublin who became the first Irishman to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing.
The 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta were a personal triumph for Michelle Smith de Bruin who became the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal and also the first Irish competitor to do so in Swimming. In all she won three gold medals and a bronze, also a record by an Irish competitor at a single celebration of the Games. Alas we all know now the eventual outcome of the subsequent investigations into Michelle’s record breaking swims so let us move forward to Cobh’s very own, Sonia O’Sullivan who in London 2012 will be Ireland’s Chef de Mission.
Sonia O’Sullivan added a silver medal to Ireland’s tally with a fine performance in Sydney in the 5000m on the track.
And so to Beijing where Kenny Egan won bronze and was very unlucky not to have had Gold against the local Chinese fighter. Bronze medals went to Paddy Barnes and to the late Darren Sutherland.
Let us also not forget that Northern Ireland cyclist Wendy Houvenaghel, won a silver competing for Great Britain .
Some famous Administrators’ too have represented the country in the Olympic movement. Ireland’s Lord Killanin (1914-1999) became President of the International Olympic Committee in 1972 and served until 1980 and he was then to become the Honorary Life President of the IOC.
Dr. Kevin O’Flanagan became a member of the International Olympic Committee in 1977 and since his retirement the Irish Member on the IOC is Patrick Hickey, elected in 1996, who became President of the Olympic Council of Ireland in 1989 following the resignation of Desmond O’Sullivan who had served as President since 1976. The President of the International Cycling Federation (UCI), Pat McQuaid from Dublin, was elected a member of the International Olympic Committee at the IOC Session held during the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver in February 2010.
He was elected to the IOC in the category of president of an international Olympic sports federation.
And so to London 2012 . What will those Games bring for Ireland in the way of medals if any? That is a question for another day but let us now just look back and give thanks to all the greats who have represented Ireland in the past , be they medal winners or not. All gave of their best.
We end this review of the past with the words of Baron Pierre de Coubertin
“L’important dans la vie ce n’est point le triomphe, mais le combat, l’essentiel ce n’est pas d’avoir vaincu mais de s’être bien battu.
The important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle, the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well”