What could have been: The diaspora lending a hand in the international medal hunt in Tokyo

Not all of the Irish stories here in Tokyo have been told by athletes or coaches wearing green singlets or tracksuits
What could have been: The diaspora lending a hand in the international medal hunt in Tokyo

Saskia Tidey, (right) who competed for Britain alongside Charlotte Dobson in the 49erFX class in sailing at the Olympics, finishing seventh.

Not all of the Irish stories here in Tokyo have been told by athletes or coaches wearing green singlets or tracksuits. A country so accustomed to sending its sons and daughters out into the wider world is always going to have parts to play in the Olympic journey of other nations.

This is just a selection of them. They span eight different sports, nine different countries and include athletes, coaches and officials, male and female, young and not-so-young. Some are born and bred on Irish soil, others are children or grandchildren of emigrants.

The lament that they are not working to push the mother country further up the medal table, for whatever reason, has to be tempered by the fact that Ireland has benefited hugely from an influx of talent and know-how from foreign shores too.

Still, if only...

Saskia Tidey

Tidey’s father Don was, famously, kidnapped by the IRA in 1983 and it is through the English-born businessman that she was able to switch allegiance from Team Ireland to Great Britain after representing the country of her birth at Rio.

Saskia Tidey, (right) who competed for Britain alongside Charlotte Dobson in the 49erFX class in sailing at the Olympics, finishing seventh.
Saskia Tidey, (right) who competed for Britain alongside Charlotte Dobson in the 49erFX class in sailing at the Olympics, finishing seventh.

The Dun Laoghaire native did so when her Rio colleague in the 49erFX class, Andrea Brewster, moved on to coaching and left her with no suitable partner going forward. Tidey ultimately finished seventh in the event alongside Charlotte Dobson this week.

Billy Walsh

For so long the pied piper of Irish boxing, Walsh finally had enough of being underpaid and underappreciated and, in late 2015, upped sticks and made for the USA’s boxing programme in Colorado Springs where he has been busy re-energising this sleeping giant.

USA coach Billy Walsh
USA coach Billy Walsh

One of Walsh’s boxers, Duke Ragan, overcame Kurt Walker in a featherweight quarter-final on Sunday. Walker had been introduced to the Irish programme by the Wexford coach who described the fight as the hardest thing he had ever had to do.

Eddie Bolger

Another Wexford man lost to the Irish boxing scene. Bolger left to coach Germany in 2017 and he has been successful enough to be offered a new contract that will see him through to the next Olympic Games in 2024.

Bolger had just three boxers on duty in Tokyo. None threatened a medal. Hamsat Shadalov was one-and-done in the men’s featherweight, so too Nadine Apetz in the women’s welterweight. Ammar Riad Abduljabbar made it to the last eight in the heavyweight class.

Jamie Costin

Costin appeared in two Olympic Games and it would have been three were it not for the dreadful road accident in Athens in 2004 in which he broke his back. That he recovered fully and returned to the pinnacle of race-walking after that was typical of the athlete he was.

Now a farmer with a young family, Costin is in Tokyo as coach to South Africa’s 50k walker Marc Mundell who is coming into the Games in good form and targeting a top-ten finish in what will be his third crack at the Games.

Michelle O’Neill

Yet another Wexford native, O’Neill is a former player who has served as assistant referee at two FIFA Women’s World Cup finals, the most recent between the USA and the Netherlands in Lyon in 2019.

Highly-regarded, she was one of 50 assistant referees chosen for duties at this Olympic Games which features both men’s and women’s fixtures. O’Neill is a regular official in the Airtricity League, Women’s National League and on the international scene.

Siobhan Haughey

A history-maker who won Hong Kong’s first ever medal in swimming and then followed it up with a second.

Her performances in the 100m freestyle and 200m freestyle were greeted rapturously in her native Hong Kong.

Women’s 100m freestyle Olympic silver medalistSiobhan Haughey of Team Hong Kong;
Women’s 100m freestyle Olympic silver medalistSiobhan Haughey of Team Hong Kong;

Haughey is, of course, the grandniece of former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey and she has spoken before about how she was approached prior to the Rio Games in 2016 to see if she would like to represent the old country.

Tony O’Connor

Born in London, brought up in Roscommon, Canada and Limerick, and now the coach to the New Zealand men’s eight who took one of the gold medals at the rowing regatta at Sea Forest Waterway here in Tokyo.

O’Connor represented Ireland in rowing in 1996 and 2000 and won five World Championship medals. He now teaches at Christ’s College in Christchurch and coaches at junior level and on the international scene.

Gary Hollywood

Hollywood is head coach at Capital Swimming Club in Wellington and he has guided New Zealand’s elite swimmers at a number of major championships, including the 2019 World Championships where his charge Lewis Clareburt claimed a bronze.

Clareburt was vying to be the first Kiwi to win a swimming medal at the Olympics since Danyon Loader won two golds in Atlanta 25 years, but finished seventh in the 400m individual medley and
eighth in the 200m individual medley.

Sinead Diver

Belmullet-born and raised but representing Australia in the women’s marathon in Sapporo this Saturday, Diver moved to Oz 19 years ago and makes her Games debut having missed out on Rio five years ago because of a knee injury.

Sinead Diver, who is Belmullet-born and raised but represents Australia in Saturday’s Olympic women’s marathon in Sapporo
Sinead Diver, who is Belmullet-born and raised but represents Australia in Saturday’s Olympic women’s marathon in Sapporo

Diver will not be your average first-timer. Now 44, she only took up running in 2010 in a bid to get fit after her first pregnancy, gradually building up from 10,000m runner to half-marathon and then the full distance.

Kathleen Noble

The Ugandan-born daughter of Irish missionary parents, Noble finished fifth in Sanita Puspure’s single sculls heat last week.

That she was a full 35 seconds adrift of Ireland’s world champion seemed to be of secondary importance.

It was still a personal best, incidentally, but Noble spoke afterwards of setting an example for others to follow in Uganda.

The country’s first Olympic rower, she has also represented her country in the pool at world championship level.

Alice Kinsella, Jennifer Gadirova and Jessica Gadirova

Britain claimed a first women’s team gymnastic medal since 1928 with the bronze earned at the Makuhari Messe Hall last week and there was a seriously strong Irish flavour to the four-strong unit that stood on the podium.

Britain's Amelie Morgan, with Alice Kinsella, daughter of former Republic of Ireland international Mark and Dublin-born twins Jennifer and Jessica Gadirova. The quartet won bronze in the artistic gymnastics women's team final. 
Britain's Amelie Morgan, with Alice Kinsella, daughter of former Republic of Ireland international Mark and Dublin-born twins Jennifer and Jessica Gadirova. The quartet won bronze in the artistic gymnastics women's team final. 

Alice Kinsella is the daughter of former Republic of Ireland footballer Mark Kinsella who played 48 times for the Boys in Green while the Gadirova twins were born in Dublin to Azerbaijani parents. They have British and Irish citizenship.

John Coghlan

Until recently the head of physical development with Meath GAA, Coghlan is now coaching Jasmine-Camacho-Quinn, the US-born Puerto Rican who lived up to her pre-race billing by claiming the 100m hurdles title here at the 2020 Games.

A former sprinter himself, he has worked in both the GAA and athletics for 20 years but, in yet another indictment of the situation at home, found it impossible to earn a living as an athletics coach in his own country.

Paddy McGrath

Dublin-born McGrath represented Ireland in the hammer at the Sydney Games and he was a six-time Irish champion to boot.

He was also a three-time All-American having attended Manhattan College on a scholarship.

Still living and working in the States, McGrath is coach to the USA’s hot prospect Rudy Winkler who finished seventh in the Olympic final with a best throw of 77.08 at the Olympic stadium.

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