Katie Taylor

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.

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Katie Taylor, Claressa Shields face disappointments in women’s boxing after Olympic victories

Katie Taylor
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Irish boxer Katie Taylor, one of three 2012 Olympic women’s boxing champions, is “flirting” with turning professional, saying “it looked like women’s boxing was taking a step backwards” at her only competition this year.

Taylor, 27, has won every major world and European amateur title since 2005 — the 2012 Olympics, four World Championships and five European Championships. She was named Ireland’s Sports Person of the Year (over Rory McIlroy) for her triumph in London, the first Games to feature women’s boxing.

Taylor defended her European amateur title in July but told the Irish Independent that the experience was “disappointing.”

“It was just a fight in a little tent in front of 100 people; it was really badly organized,” Taylor said, according to the newspaper. “For an Olympic medalist to be fighting in front of that kind of crowd, it was just disappointing. It looked like women’s boxing was taking a step backwards.”

Taylor cited “failed promises” by the International Boxing Association (IABA) and wished that a World Series of Boxing for women had been started.

Another 2012 Olympic champion, American Claressa Shields, 18, went nearly a year between bouts. Shields’ first major competition since London will start Sunday, the Women’s Junior/Youth World Championships in Bulgaria.

The minimum age for senior amateur fighters was raised to 19 this year, which meant Shields had an even harder time finding opponents since London. Try asking teenagers if they want to fight an Olympic champion with a 34-1 record and 15 TKOs.

Shields was the only youth entrant in her weight class at this spring’s U.S. Championships.

“Nobody from the U.S. will fight me,” Shields told the Detroit News. “Nobody. I mean, we called everybody we could think of.”

Shields, now a freshman at Olivet College in Michigan, said she also expected more recognition after returning home for her Olympic gold. She, like Taylor, has mulled turning pro.

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