40 years of unforgettable Olympic moments

By Stephen Leonard

WITH The Echo preparing to celebrate its 40th Anniversary, we look back on the past four decades of the Olympic Games and recall just some of the amazing sporting memories a number of our local athletes gave the nation during those years.

The Echo was founded in 1980, the year of the Moscow Games when former World champion Eamonn Coghlan from Drimnagh just missed out on the podium after finishing fourth in the 5000m, just as he had done over 1500m in Montreal in 1976.

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Former World 5000m champion Eamonn Coghlan twice missed out on the podium by just one place in Montreal in 1976 and Moscow in 1980

Now poised to mark its 40th anniversary in what should have been another Olympic year and one that was to see Tallaght’s own Jack Woolley become Ireland’s first ever representative in the sport of Taekwondo, we look back, with some of the athletes themselves, on those unforgettable Summer Games moments.

And there have been quite a few; from Michael Carruth’s stunning boxing gold medal win in Barcelona in 1992 to Kenneth Egan’s superb silver in the same discipline 16 years later.

From Eamonn Coghlan’s second near miss in Moscow to the similar disappointment suffered by Rathfarnham sailor Annalise Murphy in London in 2012 and her brilliant revival in Rio four years later when she won silver in the Laser Radial class.

From Rathcoole swimmer Michael Smith de Bruin’s triple gold and bronze in Atlanta ’96 that was tarnished by her four-year ban from the sport in 1998 for tampering with her urine sample, to the fifth place finish by Chapelizod man Ian Wiley in K1 Slalom Canoeing at the same Summer Games.

Undoubtedly one of the great moments most ingrained on the nation’s sporting psyche, is Michael Carruth’s gigantic leap into the air when he realised he had done the unthinkable by beating Juan Hernández for the welterweight boxing gold in Barcelona.

Speaking to The Echo, Carruth recalled “Getting into the ring, that was the most frightening part, there’s no question about it. He [Hernández] was known as the titanic, he wouldn’t sink.

“To be honest, I thought I lost the first round myself. When I was going back to my corner, I knew it was tight, but I came back and I was 4-3 up.

“So I said, he’s under pressure now because, all of a sudden now, the Cubans are giving out to him in the corner, saying why are you letting this little Irish guy beat ye?’

“I got a public warning in the second round, which I don’t think I deserved, and that gave him three scoring points.

“But I got them back. I landed some really good punches towards the end of the round. It was eight-all at the end of the second round.

“The first minute of the last round he got suckered. He came at me for that minute and I clipped him, I clipped him, I clipped him.

“It was an added advantage that we had about 3000 Irish people in the arena. Every time I threw a punch they cheered whether I landed or I didn’t land.

“The whole world told me I couldn’t beat Juan Hernández, but I was the only one who didn’t listen. I beat him and I beat him well, 13-10 was the score.

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Drimnagh Boxing Club’s Michael Carruth and Neilstown BC star Kenneth Egan brought home gold and silver medals respectively from the Olympic Games for Ireland

“I was a momentous moment for me and my family, my boxing family, Drimnagh Boxing Club, the area I was brought up in, Greenhills.

“I was living in Tallaght at that time when I won in the Olympic Games. I was living in Aylesbury, so my new neighbours up in Tallaght were out celebrating as well as was every boxing club throughout Ireland” he said.

The Drimnagh area certainly boasts no shortage of Olympian boxers with the likes of Philip Sutcliffe Snr and Paul Griffin having scaled such heights.

The former, a two-time European bronze medallist, made it to both the Moscow Games in 1980 and those in Los Angeles four years on when he lost out to the eventual bantamweight gold medallist Maurizio Stecca.

Neilstown Boxing Club’s Kenneth Egan followed Carruth on to the Olympic podium in Beijing in 2008 when he won silver in the light heavyweight class.

Speaking of his pride in figuring among the Irish Olympic greats he said “It was a fantastic achievement. Every now and then I take the medal out if I have to visit a school or if I have to give a talk on sport or health and fitness and well-being.

“It’s always there, it’s always mine and it’s my name that’s always associated with it in that year of 2008.

“When I beat Tony Jeffries [in the semi final], I remember getting the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had that night because I was going to bed as an Olympic gold or silver medallist.

“I didn’t know what was going on back home, the madness, the attention I was getting, but walking out with the Irish flag and family in the crowd, it was a special moment and something I’ll always remember.”

There was no such joy for Ballinteer’s David Gillick at those same Games in 2008 as the two-time European Indoor 400m champion,  exited from his heat while his DSD clubmate Deirdre Ryan missed out on the High Jump Finals in London four years later at the same time that Linda Byrne emerged the fastest Irish woman with a 66th place finish in the marathon.

Not far from Gillick’s home, Templeogue athletes Ciara Sheehy and Michelle Carey both represented Ireland in Women’s 4x400m relay competition in 2000 and 2012 respectively.

Commercial Rowing Club’s Niall O’Toole finished sixth in the Men's Lightweight Coxless Four in Greece while, Chapelizod slalom canoeist Ian Wiley, who represented Ireland in three Olympics from 1992 to 2000, carded his best result in Atlanta 1996 when he emerged fifth from the K1 class.

At those very same Games, Rathcoole swimmer Michelle Smith de Bruin grabbed the international headlines with a string of stunning performances that earned her gold in the 400m Freestyle and 200m and 400m Individual Medley as well as bronze in the 200m Butterfly.

It was the greatest performance by an Irish athlete on the Olympic stage, but one that was consistently questioned by some rivals and pundits, who insisted the Dubliner could never improve to that level without the use of performance enhancers.

Two years later she was handed a four-year ban from the sport by FINA for tampering with her urine sample and in 1999 she officially retired from swimming.

When looking back on his time in the Summer Games, three-time Olympian Eamonn Coghlan, finds it hard to mask the disappointment of twice missing out on a medal by just one place.

“The difference for me was that the expectation was for first, nothing else, not even second or third, and to come fourth it was like, you’re letting everybody down” he told The Echo.

“So the personal side of that was always one of disappointment, but not regret.

“The pressure of competition I was able to deal with, probably less in the final in 1976, but in 1980, of course. But the big problem in 1980 was I was sick. I was living in Kingswood Heights and I was running through Tallaght every day of the week, all around the Naas Road and up to Bohernabreena and all around those areas.

“So the problem I suppose in retrospect was I over-trained. I trained too bloody hard and I just got weak and there’s a fine line between being really healthy and fit and getting sick and unfortunately I went over that fine line.

“So the end result was I didn’t even expect, a week before, to be going to the Olympics. Getting into the final was a bonus and finishing fourth, was not good, but at least I gave it my all. When I look back, I gave it everything” he said.

Ireland international sailor, Annalise Murphy is another athlete all too familiar with the pain of just missing out on the Olympic podium after she finished fourth in the Laser Radial in London.

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After finishing fourth in the Laser Radial in London 2012, Rathfarnham sailor Annalise Murphy returned to the Games in Rio 2016 to capture silver

Yet the Rathfarnham woman, returned four years on to storm to a superb silver medal in Rio.

Speaking in an earlier interview with The Echo, Murphy said of that achievement “I guess I’m really happy I managed to come away with a medal because after London I always had this  fear in the back of my head that maybe that was my opportunity to win an Olympic medal.

“I kind of knew in the back of my mind that I actually had a good chance in Rio. Because it was such a difficult venue. I really enjoy trying to understand the geography of the place and how the tide works, the way the wind is, and I kind of felt that this could be to my advantage.

“At the end of the day you can prepare as well as you want, but it comes down to putting it all together in that week at the Olympics” she said.

The Rio Games marked a third Olympic appearance for Dundrum badminton player Scott Evans and his best result on this stage as he made it to the last 16 in the Men’s Singles.

Padraig Harrington was also in action in Rio as one of four Irish golfers under team leader and fellow Rathfarnham man Paul McGinley.

And there was more local interest in Brazil after Knocklyon native Shane O’Donoghue and Three Rock Rovers player Mitch Darling lined out for the Ireland Men’s Hockey team in what was the first time in more than a century that an Irish hockey outfit had reached the Games.

Now the Ireland women’s hockey squad, which currently includes the likes of experienced Loreto players Hannah Matthews, Nicci Daly and Ali Meeke will get the chance to enjoy that same experience in Tokyo next year.

The 2021 Games will also see Tallaght man Jack Woolley compete in a sport in which Ireland has never before been represented on the Olympic platform.

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South Dublin TKD’s Jack Woolley (right) from Tallaght is preparing to represent Ireland in Taekwondo at next year’s Olympics in Tokyo after qualifying in December

The South Dublin Taekwondo star secured his place in the Games back in December following a stunning year that earned him ‘The Echo 2019 Sports Star of the Year’ Award. I’m very proud, both for myself and the sport” said Woolley.

“I suppose it won’t really hit home until I’m actually going, but just to say that I’m a future Olympian, it’s absolutely crazy.

“When I was young, my goal was always to get to the Olympics and now that I’ve achieved that my goal is to become Olympic champion.”

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