New Irish Olympic champions join an exclusive club

Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy this morning joined the most distinguished group in Irish sport: the six athletes who have stepped on to the top of the Olympic podium as gold medallists. 
New Irish Olympic champions join an exclusive club

Olympic gold medal 

Dr Pat O'Callaghan
Dr Pat O'Callaghan

Dr Pat O’Callaghan, a native of Kanturk made history on 30 July 1928 in Amsterdam when he whipped the 16lb ball and chain out to 51.39m (168’ 7”) to win Ireland’s first Olympic title. The victory was important to O’Callaghan as ‘the world had been shown that Ireland had a flag, that Ireland had a National Anthem, and, in fact they had a nationality.’

O’ Callaghan returned to Los Angeles in 1932 and on 1 August successfully defended his title. Great sportsmen confirm their greatness on great occasions and O’Callaghan under immense pressure produced a dramatic winning throw of 53.92m (176’11”) with his last throw to win his second gold medal.

Bob Tisdall
Bob Tisdall

Less than an hour earlier, Ceylon-born Bob Tisdall, in only his sixth race in the 400 metres hurdles event (uniquely, he ran faster every time he contested a 440y or 400m hurdles race), destroyed the most competitive field assembled in the history of the event and comfortably won the gold medal in a new world best time of 51.7 seconds. The time was not recognised as a world record as Tisdall knocked the final hurdle. The final was graced by the presence of four men who held the Olympic 400 metres hurdles title at some stage of their storied careers.

Ronnie Delany
Ronnie Delany

The Los Angeles Golden Hour of Olympic glory was not to be repeated and it wasn’t until 1956 that an Irish athlete, Ronnie Delany, again climbed to the top of the Olympic podium. In the most important race of his career, on 1 December 1956, in the Melbourne Cricket Ground Delany executed the perfect tactical race and delivered with magnificent timing the final decisive sprint that secured victory in the 1,500 metres final in a new Olympic record time of 3:41.2. The first athlete to run a sub-4-minute mile, Roger Bannister delivered the final seal of approval of Delany’s performance: ‘I never saw a more beautifully judged race’.

Michael Carruth
Michael Carruth

Michael Carruth was an unexpected gold medallist in 1992. Carruth entered the Olympic Village ranked outside the top-fifteen amateur welterweights in the world. After nine minutes of tactical boxing on the morning of 8 August, he stepped out of the ring as welterweight Olympic champion after outpointing the multi-titled Cuban and reigning world champion, Juan Hernández Sierra. Cuban expertise played a crucial role in the Carruth title win as Nicolás Cruz had been employed by the IABA since October 1991 and was coach to the boxing team in Barcelona.

Michelle Smith's medals
Michelle Smith's medals

The Irish Olympic record books were re-written in Atlanta by swimmer Michelle Smith from 20 to 24 July 1996. Smith became Ireland’s most successful Olympian winning gold medals in the 400 metres and 200 metres individual medley and the 400 metres freestyle. It was an extraordinary transformation in the Olympic career of Michelle Smith and the victories were accompanied by controversy and suggestions that the swimmer’s improvement was not solely due to a smarter training regime. A subsequent suspension for allegedly tampering with a urine sample in a routine drug test conducted at her home in January 1998 ended her swimming career. The medals were tarnished but not beyond recognition and Michelle Smith remains Ireland’s most successful Olympian.

Katie Taylor
Katie Taylor

Katie Taylor’s Olympic title victory in London at the 2012 Games was the culmination of an outstanding amateur boxing career for the evangelist for women’s boxing. London’s ExCel-Arena was transformed into a cheering green-clad conglomerate of tricolour waving supporters for the lightweight (60 Kg) final on 10 August that transformed the east-London complex into a home venue for Taylor. It might have made the difference as Taylor’s final opponent was the world’s second ranked boxer division, Sofya Ochigava (Russia). In a tactical final, Taylor narrowly outpointed (10-8) her Russian rival to win Ireland’s ninth Olympic gold medal.

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