Katie Taylor

Ireland’s history at the Olympics

4 Comments

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

Dominik Paris, world champion skier, suffers season-ending injury

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Italian Dominik Paris, the reigning world champion in the super-G, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a training crash Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s speed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Paris crashed in super-G training not far from the hallowed World Cup venue, slipping into a curve and damaging his right knee. He also suffered a fibula microfracture, according to the Italian federation.

“My season ends here,” he said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “Unfortunately while I was sliding, the inside ski caught too much and the ligament broke. There is not much to add. In the next few days we will evaluate, together with the medical staff, how to proceed.”

Paris won his third Hahnenkamm downhill title last year and was one of the favorites for Saturday’s downhill, the most prestigious annual race in the sport. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage for “Snow Pass” subscribers at 5:30 a.m. ET.

Paris, 30, won a pair of downhills in Bormio in December among five total podiums this season.

In his absence, Swiss Beat Feuz and German Thomas Dressen lead the podium contenders.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Alpine skiing season TV schedule

It’s Nathan Chen’s time at nationals for a feat 32 years in the making

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nathan Chen can join Brian Boitano in U.S. figure skating history this week, a decade after holding Boitano in the palm of his hands with a program set to music from “Kung Fu Panda.”

Chen seeks a fourth straight national title in Greensboro, N.C. He would be the seventh man to do so since World War II. Five of the previous six won Olympic titles — Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, David Jenkins, Scott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano from 1985-88.

Boitano remembered the first time he met Chen. He and Kristi Yamaguchi were compelled to leave their seats to find the teeny, tiny wunderkind who performed that program to the 2008 DreamWorks film.

“He was taking off his skates, and he probably came up to our waist,” Boitano said. “We knew when we saw him back then that he was going to be something special. He was really quiet. He’s still very quiet.”

In an interview last week, Chen focused on the present — coming back from a two-week cold or flu bug — rather than the perspective.

“I don’t like to typically think about that,” Chen said when asked about his streak. “It’s just different [from year to year]. It’s not really necessarily easier or harder.”

It is also different from previous eras. The last five men to win four in a row did it all in one Olympic cycle, then stepped away from competition after the Winter Games. That was back when turning professional meant the end of an Olympic career.

“It was kind of the norm back then,” Hamilton said. “After that it was kind of back and forth a lot [until Chen]. The business of skating changed so skaters could stay in a lot more, a lot longer. With all the money they brought in, they were able to prevent skaters from turning professional. So that brought in a different approach to nationals.”

NATIONALS PREVIEWS: Nathan Chen | Alysa Liu | Vincent Zhou | Pairs | TV Schedule

Both Hamilton and six-time (non-consecutive) U.S. champion Todd Eldredge could think of just one name to compare Chen’s dominance in the history of U.S. men’s skating: Button, who won the first seven national titles after World War II, plus two Olympic golds.

Button earned national and world titles as a Harvard student. Chen is on a two-season win streak while majoring in statistics and data science at Yale. Button was the first skater to land a double Axel and a triple jump of any kind. Chen was the first to land six quads in one free skate.

Eldredge coaches skaters at the same rink where Chen trains when Chen visits his Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutunian. He is awed by watching Chen working out. Though Eldredge owns more national titles, he never felt the massive favorite status that accompanies Chen.

Eldredge competed in the post-Hamilton/Boitano era, when national champions began competing over multiple Olympic cycles. Eldredge ebbed and flowed from his first national title in 1990, when compulsory figures were still around, to 2002, when he defeated Timothy Goebel, then known as the Quad King.

“Physically, the demands of the sport take their toll on your body,” Eldredge said. “It’s hard to maintain that same level for that length of period of time.

“[In] 12 years [since Chen’s first national title], when he’s 29 years old, is he going to be able to continue to sustain that?”

All of the recent top U.S. men competed in multiple Olympic cycles. The last multiple national champion was Jeremy Abbott, who earned two titles each in two different Olympic cycles. Abbott finished his career in a third Olympic cycle, placing fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships. Abbott didn’t remember that Chen made his senior nationals debut that year, finishing eighth at age 15.

“For me, winning the third and the fourth [titles] were harder because I started thinking about winning,” Abbott said. “After the second one, I was heading into a new quad and I was two-time U.S. champion. Then my focus was, oh, I’m expected to win. So that was a harder mental game rather than just focusing on making an Olympic team. The expectation now that I’ve done this twice in a row, I’m expected to win again and again and again.”

Abbott and Chen came up in the era of the points-based judging system instituted in 2004.

“Now with the way the scoring system is very different [from the old 6.0], cumulative points, if you have a bad day as a national champion, that’s it. You can’t get the points,” Eldredge said. “[In previous eras], if a certain skater was, I’ll say politically supposed to be the champion, you got a higher score, and rightfully so in most cases.”

Chen has the benefit of going into competitions knowing the kind of advantage he has in base value points from his jumping arsenal. He won last year’s national title by 58 points. This international season, he is 80 points clear of the next-highest-ranked U.S. man, Jason Brown.

“I don’t think that the try-to-push technique is necessarily my goal here,” at nationals, Chen said. “Hopefully just to maintain my body, maintain my health and try to prepare myself for the second half of the season.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Canadian ice dancers overcome wardrobe malfunction at nationals

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.