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  • From Coghlan To Annalise - Ireland's Glorious History With 'The Worst Position' In The Olympics

From Coghlan To Annalise - Ireland's Glorious History With 'The Worst Position' In The Olympics

Conor Neville
By Conor Neville
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Thomas Barr is the latest in a long line of Irish 4th place finishers. Here are the Irish men and women who've finished in the best/worst position outside the medals over the last 40 years. Ireland had plenty of 4th place finishes before 1976 but we're going to focus on the past few decades.

Sean Drea - Rowing, Montreal 1976 

The first but not the last time Ireland finished 4th in rowing. It was Sean Drea's lot to finish in that lonely spot in the single sculls in Montreal in 1976.

Those young people who suffer from the debilitating condition known as 'Ted Tourettes' may be unable to say his name in any accent other than the one of the Arthur Mathews-played priest in the Speed 3 episode of Father Ted. But Drea deserves to be remembered for more than his role in an unfinished anecdote from a fictional character in a popular sitcom.

Drea, born in Bagnalstown, first competed in the 1972 Olympics, finishing seventh. Two years later, he claimed the US Championships and the following year finished second in the World Championships.

In Montreal, he broke the world record in the single sculls over 2000 metres in the semi-final. However, he missed out on the podium in the final.

Eamonn Coghlan - 1500m, Montreal 1976

In the first season of 'Play it again, Des', the sportspeople invited on as guests were given free reign to talk about their favourite moments in all of sport, not just memories involving their career.


There was a gaping flaw at the heart of this layout in that there were only so many sporting memories to go around and everyone had more or less the same ones. We must have watched Eamonn Coghlan looking around at the Russian before sprinting away for gold in Helsinki in every episode of the first season.

We didn't watch any of his Olympic Games finals because there were no good memories. The night before the 1500 Olympic final in '76, Coghlan took the bizarre decision to shave his legs for the first time, apparently believing that he would derive an aerodynamic advantage. His inexperience in the leg-shaving department let down and his legs itched the entire night, interrupting his sleep.

In the race proper, he took the decision to go to the front early, leaving him with little left for the kick finish.


Ireland's run without an Olympic medal of any sort continued. By this stage, Toyko in 1964 was the last time we'd won a medal.

Eamonn Coghlan - 5000m, Moscow 1980

Four years later, Coghlan finished just outside the podium in the Moscow Olympics. Again, the race was won by a man who'd already collected another gold from the same games. In '76, John Walker won both the 1500 and 5000. In 1980, Ethiopian legend Miruts Yifter, nicknamed 'Yifter the shifter' by the European press, won both the 5000 and 10000.


Yifter had a touch of the Roger Milla about him. He looked quite old but no one was sure exactly what age he was and he was determined not tell anyone.

Again, Coghlann led the race in the final lap, kicking for the front with 200m left but only holding the lead for a few seconds as Yifter also chose that moment to switch on the afterburners.

Sonia O'Sullivan - 3000m, Barcelona 1992

Not to be confused with the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart where she was beaten out by three Chinese runners of dubious athletic background.

Brendan Foster suggested that Sonia should have waited rather heading for the front with 300m left. The gold was won by Russian athlete Yelena Romanova, who was competing for the 'Unified Team' also known as the CIS (Centre of Independent States), the entity created following the collapse of the Soviet Union and which also competed at Euro 92.

Romanova beat her bitter rival and compatriot Tetyana Dorovskikh in the race for gold. Sonia was run out of third spot by Canadian Angela Chalmers.


Neville Maxwell, Sam Lynch, Tony O'Connor, Derek Holland - Rowing, Atlanta 1996


Jimmy Magee is no doubt still adamant that Atlanta has to be considered one of Ireland's greatest ever Olympic Games seeing as we brought home the greatest haul of gold medals we've ever seen.

True enough, if you consult the records, Ireland did win three gold medals at the Atlanta games, one more than we managed in the glorious Los Angeles games of 1932 and two and three more than plenty of others.


Others, however, for reasons that hardly need to be gone into, regard Atlanta as the very worst Olmypic Games in our history. Not only was it tainted as it was by later controversy, there was also the matter of the harrowing under-performance of our best medal hope, Sonia.

We came a whisker away from winning a medal in the rowing. In the lightweight coxless fours, the Irish quartet of Lynch, Maxwell, Holland and O'Connor were pipped by less than a second the US crew.

Maxwell's emotional reaction to the O'Donovan brothers success harked back to that year.

20 years we've been waiting for this. But they have finally broken the duck in terms of the Olympic games. We've been winning world medals for 20 years. And at last we have that Olympic medal. Fourth place. Let's stop talking about it. It's in the bin. It's forgotten about. Now we have rowers that are winning Olympic medals.

Kevin Babbington - Show-jumping, Athens 2004

Following the Sydney Olympics, the OCI President at the time, Mr. Pat Hickey, said that 'second raters need not apply for Athens in 2004'. This charmless remark was roundly criticised at the time. Even in 2000, Pat Hickey was a deeply controversial figure in Irish sports administration.

In any event, the Athens games was even worse than Sydney. While we thought we'd won a gold medal in show-jumping, this was subsequently chalked off.

Cian O'Connor's Waterford Crystal was revealed to be a doper and was stripped of his gold medal. The official investigation revealed that O'Connor was not involved in a deliberate attempt to influence the horse.

While Ireland lost the gold, we did get another 4th place as a result of the controversy. Kevin Babbington had finished what he thought was tied for 5th but this was subsequently upgraded.

Eoin Rheinisch - Canoeing, Beijing 2008

The K-1 slalom has almost delivered Ireland two Olympic medals. Ian Wiley came fifth in Atlanta in 1996. Twelve years later, Kildare's Eoin Rheinisch just missed the podium in Beijing, his second Olympic Games.

Interestingly, he only just scraped out of the heat and the semi-final, finishing in the bottom qualifying spot in both. In the final, he got round in 88.06 seconds, just behind Togo's Benjamin Boukpeti.

His final Olympics in London was a relative disappointment.

Annalise Murphy - Sailing, London 2012

In contrast with Barr who appeared a small bit disappointment but generally delighted by his Olympic performance, Annalise Murphy was dismayed to finish 4th. In her tearful post-race interview, she asserted that "4th is definitely the worst".

Unlike Barr, Murphy led the race at one stage and was in the medal places until the final race. As it is now, the 4th place finish is just the prequel to the happier story which played out in Rio.

Read more: Balls Remembers A Glorious Hour The Likes Of Which Irish Sport May Never See Again




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