Katie Taylor

Ireland’s history at the Olympics

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Ireland’s athletic prowess hasn’t always converted to the Olympic stage, but the Emerald Isle has left impressions across several sports. Let’s highlight them on St. Patrick’s Day.

Ireland has won 31 medals, including nine golds, all in the Summer Olympics, according to sports-reference.com.

The best-known recent Olympians include Katie Taylor, who won women’s boxing gold in its debut in 2012.

Taylor was the grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day parade Sunday in Toronto, where she resides. She is 27 and planning to defend her title in Rio de Janeiro.

The most decorated Irish Olympian of all time is swimmer Michelle Smith, who won three gold medals and one bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, accounting for all of Ireland’s medals at those Games.

Smith came under a doping controversy cloud at and following her surprisingly successful Olympics. She was mentioned on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1997 and, in 1998, was banned four years for tampering with one of her urine samples. That ended her swimming career, and she went into a law profession.

“She had enough whiskey in her sample to be dead,” Australian Olympic swimming champion Susie O’Neill said in 2012.

Then there’s Cian O’Connor, who won gold in individual show jumping at the 2004 Olympics but was stripped of it after his horse tested positive.

Ireland could experience unprecedented success at the 2016 Olympics with the addition of golf. 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and two-time major champion Rory McIlroy are ranked in the top 15 in the world.

They are both from Northern Ireland, whose athletes can compete for either Ireland or Great Britain at the Olympics. McDowell is believed to be tied to representing Ireland at the Olympics because he played for Ireland at last year’s World Cup of golf.

McIlroy did not play in last year’s World Cup and hasn’t decided on which nation he will represent, should he qualify for 2016.

1987 Tour de France champion Stephen Roche competed in the Olympics once, finishing 45th in the road race at the 1980 Moscow Games.

In gymnastics, Kieran Behan became a story at the London 2012 Olympics, the 5-foot-4 tumbler who defied the doctors who said he would never walk again.

He made it to the Games overcoming a complication from surgery to remove a non-cancerous tumor in his leg when he was 10 that left him in a wheelchair. He also later suffered brain damage from a training accident as a boy. Then he tore his right ACL. Then his left.

Irish influences have been seen at the Olympics in other forms. In Sochi, U.S. figure skater Jason Brown gained fame in the lead up to the Olympics and during the Games with his eye-catching “Riverdance” free skate.

In the Paralympics, Irish visually impaired sprinter Jason Smyth is a four-time gold medalist over 2008 and 2012 and has trained with American record holder Tyson Gay.

California earthquake rattles Olympians

Claressa Shields congratulated by famous boxing actor (video)

Claressa Shields
Getty Images
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Claressa Shields may just be the most dominant female athlete on the planet. The Flint, Mich., native is now a two-time Olympic boxing champion with a 77-1 record and a four-year unbeaten streak.

Actor Mark Wahlberg, who played boxer Micky Ward in the 2010 film “The Fighter,” took notice.

He taped a video that Shields watched before a celebration in her hometown Thursday, according to the Flint Journal.

“You are the true definition of a champion,” Wahlberg said. “You continue to inspire so many people, not only in Flint, but all over the world. I’m so proud of you. Your performance was amazing. God bless you. I look forward to seeing you, and I look forward to doing lots of things with you.”

Now Shields must decide whether to turn professional, which would end her Olympic career.

“Professional women’s boxing is not nowhere near on the same attention level as the Olympics are,” the 21-year-old Shields said, according to the Flint Journal. “I get way more attention than any female boxer who is professional right now with me being an amateur.

“So the goal is to go professional but still have that same attention and same mainstream. Hopefully, if they have the rule changed that the women professionals can come back and fight the Olympics, I would go professional to fight on TV and make a bunch of money but then come back and defend my two gold medals in 2020.”

MORE: Shields becomes first U.S. fighter to win back-to-back golds

Russian Olympic medalists gifts include racehorse

Abdulrashid Sadulaev
AP
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MOSCOW (AP) — Luxury cars, apartments, even a racehorse — being an Olympic medalist in Russia can come with great material rewards but also controversy.

Under President Vladimir Putin, it’s become a tradition for Russia’s Olympic heroes to be showered with large cash sums and sometimes unwanted gifts.

On Friday, less than 24 hours after dozens of medalists were presented with BMW cars at the Kremlin by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, an advertisement appeared online offering one of them for sale, with photographs showing the car still covered in stickers celebrating Russia’s medal haul in Rio.

The advertisement offering the BMW X6 for 4.67 million rubles ($72,000) was anonymous and quickly withdrawn. It couldn’t be independently verified by The Associated Press, though Russian agency R-Sport claimed the seller was a Russian medalist who thought the car was too big and unwieldy.

Figure skater Maxim Trankov, who received a Mercedes-Benz SUV for his gold medal in 2014, said few Olympians could afford to own such cars.

“Has no one thought that these gift cars are not only liable for the tax on luxury items, but also aren’t cheap to run and earnings can’t cover it?” he wrote on Twitter. “I’d sell mine too if it came to it … Or does everyone think all sports pay as well as soccer, hockey or tennis?”

Gymnast Seda Tutkhalyan said she wouldn’t be able to drive her new BMW because at 17 years of age she was too young to have a license.

While online commenters mostly supported an athlete’s right to sell expensive Olympic gifts, many were critical of the government for a display of conspicuous consumption at the Kremlin at a time when Russia’s pension and healthcare systems are under financial strain.

It’s not fully clear how much the prizes have cost the Russian government.

State TV channel Rossiya 24 reported that the fleet of BMWs was provided by the Olympians’ Support Fund, which is backed by a group of Russia’s richest men, but that the accompanying cash prizes of tens of thousands of dollars per medalist came in part from the federal budget.

More awards are on offer from regional governments, many of which made public displays of generosity despite financial troubles of their own.

The Caucasus region of North Ossetia last month promised a free apartment for any medalists from the area, though it isn’t clear if this has happened yet.

In another grand gesture, the head of the restive Dagestan region gave Olympic wrestling champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev 6 million rubles ($93,000) in cash and a racehorse at a lavish welcoming ceremony featured on local TV.

Still, all may not be well for Sadulaev, who’s nicknamed the “Russian Tank” for his habit of crushing opponents on the wrestling mat. He’s already facing an allegation from a Moscow radio presenter of reckless driving in his eye-catching BMW.

MORE: Putin slams Russia’s Paralympic ban