By Graham Gillespie
Our athletes are currently in the process of putting the finishing touches on their preparations ahead of August and the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. With a significant number of medal contenders amongst Ireland’s Olympians (especially in boxing) there is a strong possibility of acquiring a record medal haul for the country surpassing the previous record of five medals. Here are some of the key names to look out for in Ireland’s delegation in Rio:
Seemingly a sure-fire bet for a medal, Michael Conlan has totally dominated the amateur boxing scene at the Bantamweight weight class. In 2015, he won World and European golds to add to the Commonwealth gold he won in 2014 competing for Northern Ireland and is ranked by the AIBA as the best boxer in the world in his division. The 2012 Olympics bronze medallist now wants to enter professional boxing, but not before leaving the amateur circuit on a high by filling the gap in his medal collection by winning gold in Rio.
Natalya Coyle and Arthur Lanigan-O’Keeffe
Natalya Coyle and Arthur Lanigan-O’Keeffe both compete in the modern pentathlon and could well become household names in Ireland during the Olympics. Coyle competed in London four years ago and has taken great strides forward in her career in the meantime. Her main achievements have come in the relay with her partner Arthur Lanigan-O’Keeffe with whom she has won two World Cup silvers along with a fourth place finish at the World Championships. Unlike Coyle, Lanigan-O’Keeffe has also had major tournament success individually winning the European Championships in Bath last August. If this coming August also brings triumph then a lot of Irish people may know more about this sport, which involves competing in swimming, fencing, show jumping, cross-country running and shooting.
As he mentions in his twitter bio despite his name the 800 metre runner is actually Irish and has medalled in both the outdoor and indoor variants of the European Championship. He has yet to earn a place in a world final but the Letterkenny native will be certainly be aiming for an Olympic final come summertime. This would be a remarkable achievement as along with being an elite level athlete he is also currently studying for his full-time degree in medical studies in UCD.
Like Conlan, Heffernan has been a World Champion and may well receive a retrospective bronze medal for his fourth place finish in the 50km walk in London 2012 due to the winner of that race getting banned for doping. Although 50 kilometres is his best distance the Cork man also has pedigree over 20km meaning he will have two chances of success this year. However, his recent injury issues might well be his biggest obstacle to putting on a good display in what could be a last hurrah for the 37 year old.
In golf’s first appearance at the Olympics, McIlroy will come to Brazil as one of the favourites. The World number 3 had a mediocre 2015 partially due to his cruciate ligament injury and also because of the remarkable form of Jordan Spieth. After finally making the decision to represent Ireland at Rio, McIlroy may find himself under a substantial amount of pressure, but a golfer of his unquestionable ability will always be competitive no matter what tournament he enters.
After coming agonisingly close to medal in London four years ago only to finish fourth in the Laser Redial discipline, sailor Murphy will be looking to make amends in Guanabara Bay this summer. Following the disappointment of 2012, the 25 year old Murphy picked herself to win gold at the 2013 European Sailing Championships in her native Dublin. Although she has suffered some dips in form in the intervening period finishing only 20th in the 2014 World Championship, and has not yet guaranteed her position in Rio with the Irish Sailing Association’s trail series not reaching its conclusion until April. If she does make it as expected it would be of no surprise if Annalise Murphy is in contention to go one better than London and take home a medal.
Her record speaks for itself and it would be a foolish individual who bet against Katie Taylor extending her dominance in Women’s boxing by adding another gold to her medal collection which contains a baffling 5 World and 6 European titles along with her previous Olympic gold.
The light heavyweight Jo Ward was somewhat unfortunate not to qualify for the previous Olympics but despite that disappointment the southpaw boxer has moved from strength to strength in recent years. A former World Youth Championship gold medallist, Ward became Ireland’s youngest ever European amateur boxing champion in 2011 at just 17 years old and is also the current reigning European Championship. On the world stage he has gained a bronze in 2013 and a silver last year, and there is no reason why he cannot match or even better these results at the Olympics.