Olympics

The State Of Play For Irish Olympic Sport - How Are We Fixed For Paris 2024?

The State Of Play For Irish Olympic Sport - How Are We Fixed For Paris 2024?

Olympic medals are hard to get. Really, really hard to get.

You need to be an elite athlete and peak on one or two days every two (or five or three...) years. Then you've to hope you get a little luck with your draw, or the weather or, as Ireland found out last week, the horse you're assigned.

Paris 2024 will be the 100th anniversary of Ireland's first Olympics as an independent nation and we have won a total of 35 medals in all those games.  They're really hard to get.  Gold medals? Well they're near impossible to get.

So when you're trying trying to rate Ireland's performance at an Olympic Games medals can't be the only factor. Every medal is rightly celebrated but all competitors have their own goals and many will have outperformed those expectations. Naturally, others will be disappointed.

Read this as a wrap up on Tokyo but also as an early predicator of where we can be in Paris. We'll go through them sport by sport.

Boxing

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Traditionally Ireland's strongest Olympic sport, boxing was back with a bang in Tokyo with Kellie Harrington's amazing gold and Aidan Walsh winning bronze when few gave him a chance before the draws were made.

Kurt Walker came close to adding a third while others came up against difficult opponents.  Of the five Irish fighters not to medal, three lost to eventual finalists.

It's impossible to predict how the Irish team will look in Paris. It's expected that more women's weights will be added in place of men's events but no official announcement has been made. This may help Ireland as our women are among the strongest in the world.

There's also the complication of our boxers potentially moving to the pro ranks. Irish boxing has proved itself though. Since 2008 they have brought multiple medal chances to the games and Paris will be no different.

Rowing

While boxing is a truly global Olympic sport, Europeans are the dominant force in rowing - 14 of the 18 countries to win a medal in Tokyo were European.

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We mention this solely to suggest that with the right funding, we can continue to win medals on the global stage. Obviously O'Donovan and McCarthy are the world's best and at 30-years old and 27-years old in Paris respectively, they could still be favourites.

Our women's four should still be around too. It's likely that the great Sanita Puspure will retire but otherwise we may see our entire Tokyo team stick at the sport.

Two years ago, Ireland won two medals at the world under 23 championships (Olympic medalists Eimear Lambe and Emily Hegarty among them). Last year we won fve medals at the European under 23s (Olympians Ronan Byrne, Margerat Cremen and Aoife Casey among them).

Irish rowing is in rare health and will hopefully send multiples boats to Paris as medal contenders again.

Gymnastics

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Rhys McClenaghan will be be back for Paris. The early slip in Tokyo cost him a medal but he's bounced back before. The "Prince of Pommel" will next compete in the World Championships and the shorter Olympic cycle will definitely help him.

Megan Ryan became the first woman gymnast to be developed here to compete in the Olympics. That's a great sign for Irish gymnastics. At the European Championships earlier this year Emma Slevin and Adam Steele both qualified for the all around finals.

Irish gymnastics is probably at it's strongest ever point.

Athletics

It is extremely difficult to win medals for Irish athletes. Only seven of the 60 medals available on the track were won by European born athletes. There's more chance in the field events but we didn't send a single athlete to compete in the field.

The highlight of the Irish athletic team's involvement in Tokyo was the 4x400m mixed relay making the final. The whole mixed relay project showed some potential for the future. Athletics Ireland smartly targeted qualification at the World Relays (foregoing the men's and women's 4x400 relays) and reaped the benefits.

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We might look at a country like Poland for inspiration. They won an incredible 9 medals at the games but only one in an individual track event. The rest came from relays, field events and walking.

Our largest ever women's track team travelled to Tokyo but none of the 9 made it out of their heats. Some will be better for the experience but we're just trying to highlight how high the standard is in global athletics.

Rhasidat Adeleke is obviously our shining light for Paris but as good as she is, she's still only the 6th ranked under 20 200m runner in the world. The step from there to Olympic medals is huge. She'll have the benefits of top class training at the University of Texas so she'll hopefully develop. Many commentators think her best distance may end up being the 400m.

Hopes are high too that young Nick Griggs (who'll be 19-years old in Paris) could be ready to make a step up to world level.

Equestrian Sports

Our eventing team will always be in the top ten in the world but making that step up to contend for medals needs a bit of luck. They got that in the 2018 World Equestrian Games but were under pressure in Tokyo before it started with the loss of our top combination of Cathal Daniels and Rioghan Rua.

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Poor dressage performance from the team ruled them out of medal contention almost immediately and despite a great performance by Daniel's replacement Austin O'Connor they couldn't finish higher than 8th. The eventing team has qualified for every games since Barcelona and only once finished higher than 8th.

It's a sport that can change quickly as evidenced by no horses from our world silver medal winning team in 2018 making it to Tokyo.

The Irish show jumping team are underachievers. Despite having several individuals competing at the highest level on the international circuit, they have failed to deliver medals on a consistent basis. That looked to be changing somewhat in this cycle but after gold in the 2017 Europeans and the 2019 Nations Cup final, they were back to the inconsistent best in Tokyo.

Clear rounds by all three in the individual qualifier promised much but they were the last clear rounds jumped. Injury to Cian O'Connor's mount didn't help in fairness to the team. There's no reason to think we can't compete in Paris of course, but we need to bring more consistency to our teams if we're to challenge for medals.

Dressage made a huge leap ahead of Tokyo with Ireland qualifying a team for the first time but the change in year stole that chance to compete. An Irish team heading to Paris would be a huge achievement.

Swimming

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Mona McSharry making the final in Tokyo was an amazing achievement.

The 2017 World Junior Champion had struggled for a couple of years but seems to be back enjoying her swimming and may develop further at the University of Tennessee. At 20-years old she was the 3rd youngest swimmer in the final but the gold medal winner being only 17 shows how hard predicting 2024 will be.

In perhaps a worrying development, the Irish swimmers to develop the most in the last 12 months have done so away from the National centre in Dublin. McSharry in Tennessee, Daniel Wiffen rocketed up rankings since joining Loughborough University while both Danielle Hill and Ellen Walsh qualified while training with their clubs.

This isn't to diminish the achievement of Ireland sending it's largest ever swimming team to an Olympics. Nine swimmers making the trip, including our first ever men's relay, is certainly a step up from previous years.  The World Championships are in Italy next year and it'll be interesting to see if Ireland can make more than than the one semi final they reached in Tokyo.

Cycling

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The second wave of great Irish road cyclists is nearing an end. Nico Roche is 37, Dan Martin is 34 and even Sam Bennett is 30.

That's not to say there should be any doom and gloom.

Ben Healy is one of the most exciting espoirs in the world and he'll be part of the World Tour in 2022. Eddie Dunbar made his Olympic debut this year and he's only 24. Archie Ryan at 19 might be the best of all of them.

This is to say that Ireland should be okay for road cyclists for the next few years, at least on the men's side, but will they do any better than the last crop in the Olympics? It's way too difficult to predict.

Track is a little more straight forward to predict and without a velodrome, it's a miracle Ireland gets anybody to the Olympics. Getting four riders to Tokyo was incredible. Crashes put paid to all chance of a decent result in all four events but Emily Kay looked strong in the omnium before her crash.

She'll likely be part of the team going forward with perhaps our European and World Junior medalist Lara Gillespie making the step up to the senior ranks.

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Irish track cycling is in an awkward position for funding. They almost have to win medals in the non-Olympic events to get the funding needed. It's constantly being talked about but it really is true that without a proper velodrome, we're way behind the rest of the world.

Diving

The Irish diving team in 2021 consisted of four divers, with all four being born or raised in England. We're not suggesting they're any less Irish, but rather pointing out that developing divers in Ireland is difficult.

Oliver Dingley will be 31 in Paris so we'll have to see if he is staying with the sport. Tanya Watson is almost certain to be back in Paris and she may even be targeting a final, she wasn't far away in Tokyo. Let's see if anyone can join Ciara McGing and Clare Cryan in the squad.

Golf

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It's not an exaggeration to suggest that Ireland could win medals in Golf at every Olympics. We're not suggesting they will, but we have enough strength in depth on the men's side to ensure we send two men to the Games that could finish in the top three.

Clearly, Rory McIlroy is still the top chance and he came so close to a medal in Tokyo.  On the women's side, Stephanie Meadow and Leona Maguire continue to fly the flag and it looks like Maguire could be far higher up the rankings by the time Paris comes around.

Sailing

It looks like Annalise Murphy has finished her illustrious Olympic career. Ireland's only individual sailing medal winner wasn't happy at her level of performance in Tokyo.

Aisling Kelleher won the quota for Tokyo so she's likely to be back in contention now but world youth champion Eve McMahon will be hoping her transition to the senior ranks is as successful as her junior career.

Ireland's other boat in Tokyo was manned by two world junior champions in Robert Dickson & Sean Waddilove in the 4934 class. They showed serious promise by winning two of the fleet races and if it weren't for a technical disqualification they'd have likely made the medal race. If they continue their development, there's no reason to think they won't be contenders in Paris.

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Modern Pentathlon

Natalya Coyle has paved the way for Irish modern pentathlon and she may yet re-consider her decision to retire after her Tokyo heartbreak. Sive Brassil was close to Olympic qualification herself and looks best placed to take the mantle going forward.

On the men's side Arthur Lannigan O'Keefe qualified for Tokyo despite being injured for much of the last two years. If he can get a clear run at Paris, the former European champion is a match for anyone on his day in this most unpredictable of sports.

Taekwondo

Jack Woolley definitely caught the public's attention early on in the Olympics with his heartbreaking late loss and emotional response.

He's still only 22 and might be at his peak in Paris.  Let's hope his story can inspire others. maybe not for Paris, but for LA and beyond.

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Judo

Ireland brought two judoka to an Olympics for the first ever time and both Megan and Ben Fletcher can count themselves unlucky with how it panned out. Megan has announced her retirement while Ben hasn't committed yet.

He'll be 32 in Paris but may want to approach an Olympics injury free. Our best home grown judoka, Eoin Fleming, is quite a bit away from Olympic standard.

Rugby 7s

Of all the Olympic sports at a crossroads in their Irish development, none seem as stark as Rugby 7s.

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For too long, Irish Rugby ignored the sevens game for both men and women but surely the men's qualification for Tokyo against the odds will ensure they won't be ignored again.

It's a running theme here, but there's only one reason why Ireland can't compete with the best sevens nations in rugby; funding. If that's corrected we could expect to qualify both teams for Paris and contend with the best.

Canoeing

Slalom canoeing in Ireland is in a good place. Liam Jegou nearly made the final in Tokyo and along with Robert Hendrick and Jake Cochrane, they form a formidable team that can certainly develop towards Paris.

Only one can enter an Olympics but hopefully all three will be competing at European and World level over the next few years. Our best canoe "sprinters" concentrate on longer distances so unfortunately for Olympic purposes won't be a factor.

Badminton

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Nhat Nguyen is another one of those Irish Olympians who burst into the public's consciousness with his back story and his performances. Nhat should be around for a while on Irish teams and who knows how far he can go in the senior ranks.

Ireland's stellar mixed double of San and Chloe Magee are coming to the end of their career together.

Hockey

The Ireland women's team have had an amazing few years. From World Cup silver in 2018 to Olympic qualification but they'll be disappointed at how their Olympics ended. They're now ranked 12th in the world with the men's team ranked 14th. That means both teams are right on the bubble for qualification.

We have a huge few months for the men's team. They must finish top five at the Euro Hockey Div II championship to qualify for a World Cup qualifier in October. Only the top two there will make the next World Cup. The women need top 2 in their World Cup qualifier in October too.

If we're looking to make Olympic visits more regular, they need to be qualifying for the World Cup every time too.

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Triathlon

It's pretty remarkable that Ireland has qualified a man and a woman for each of the last three Olympics in triathlon. Each of those Olympics has seen one of our competitors finish in the 20s and the other in the 40s.

At the recent European duathlon (swimming, running), young Erin McConnell won elite bronze (and under 23 silver) so perhaps she can develop into an exciting triathlete. Lets hope so as the climate in Paris in 2024 is likely to be more suited to our athletes than Tokyo.

Shooting

Derek Burnett competed in his fifth Olympics in Tokyo - a remarkable achievement for anybody. Hope were high that former world junior champion Ian O'Sullivan would lead the Irish trap charge but he has struggled for form over the past two years.

Aoife Gormally is ranked inside the world top 20 now and just missed out on Tokyo. She'll hope to be in Paris.

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*****

This sport-by-sport wrap up has deliberately not ranked how Ireland has performed. We're competing against countries with massive budgets and often in sports that are mostly ignored here while they enjoy huge status in other countries.

Every Irish Olympian has worked incredibly hard for most of their life to get to a Games and it's churlish for a hack like me to criticise an elite sportsperson because they could only finish in the top 20 in an Olympic event.

I believe that Irish progress in Olympic sports can be measured in how many athletes we qualify in different sports. To that end, this Olympic was a success before it started.

116 athletes (ended up being 117) was the headline figure but even without the hockey and rugby teams we were above our previous high. Our previous record of sports participated in was 14, and we had 19 in Tokyo. Before the games I listed the 15 most likely Irish medal winners. For Ireland to have 15 (and it was more) possible medal winners shows the growth from previous games.

For the first time ever Ireland won gold medals in two different sports. For the first time ever we had gold medals won by men and women.

If Rory McIlroy's putt is an inch to the side or one judge sees Kurt Walker's aggression differently, Ireland may be talking about our greatest ever Olympics. That's how fine the margins and that's how difficult it is to win an Olympic medal.

It's a numbers game, give yourself as many opportunities to win a medal as possible and eventually, they'll come. That's progression to me, and in general, I think Ireland is on the right path for Paris.

SEE ALSO: Olympic 100m Champion Admits Brit's Doping Verdict Made Him Smile

John Dodge
Article written by
Football fan. Lover of sporting stats. All round nice guy. Balls.ie's so called Olympic correspondent. 100% biased against your team

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