Ten intriguing facts about the Irish at the Olympic Games
Sport

Ten intriguing facts about the Irish at the Olympic Games

  • Dubliner John Pius Boland won the first gold medal in men’s tennis in 1896 – the inaugural Olympic Games in Athens – beating home favourite Dionysios Kasdaglis of Greece, although the record books state he won it for Great Britain and Ireland.
  • Several Irish athletes also won medals for the USA, most notably the ‘Irish Whales’ – a group of Irish-born males who dominated weight throwing events at the Olympics between 1896 and 1924.
  • As a result of the December 1921 Treaty, Ireland's political status changed and by 1924 Ireland were able to take part as a separate team for the first time in the Paris Olympic Games.
  • Jack Butler Yeats, brother of celebrated Irish poet W.B. Yeats, was Team Ireland's first Olympic medalist following the creation of the Irish Free State. He earned silver for his painting The Liffey Swim in the Arts and Culture section of the 1924 Olympics.
  • Ireland boycotted the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin because the IAAF amended its constitution to define affiliated members as political entities. National Athletic and Cycling Association (NACAI), an All-Ireland body, refused to recognise the border between the North and South of Ireland, and was subsequently suspended by the IAAF for rejecting the change. The Olympic Council of Ireland boycotted the whole event in support of the cyclists.
  • In 1987, Irish sporting bodies Bord Lúthchleas na hÉireann (BLE) and NACAI came to an agreement that would allow members of both associations to compete for Ireland no matter where on the island they were from. In 2000, the two bodies dissolved and Athletics Ireland was born.
  • Under her maiden name, Michelle Smith de Bruin won three gold medals in swimming at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, but was suspended from the sport for four years under doping violations two years later after tampering with her urine sample. However, she was not stripped of her Olympic medals as only samples after the 1996 Games tested positive.
  • In Athens 2004, Cian O'Connor won a gold medal in the individual show-jumping, but he was formally stripped of the prize the following year because his horse failed the post-event doping test.
  • In March 2016, the court of Arbitration for Sport upgraded race walker Robert Heffernan to Olympic Bronze for his performance in the 50km race at London 2012, as Russian Sergey Kirdyapkin was stripped of his gold for a doping violation. That decision made London 2012 Ireland’s most successful Games with six medals, beating the five-medal haul in 1956.
  • Boxing is by some distance Ireland's most successful sport at the Olympics, accounting for 16 of the nation's 29 medals to date, though athletics has accumulated the most golds (four).
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