Tokyo 2020 has come and gone with Cork athletes playing a major role in Ireland’s modest but well-deserved haul of two gold and two bronze medals.
Our 39th placed finish on the medal table, tied with Israel, is the best we have achieved since Atlanta 1996 when Michelle Smith singlehandedly swam us to 28th position, winning all three golds and one bronze for her nation.
This year, Ireland sent its largest ever team to the Olympics with 116 athletes taking part, our biggest team since the London 1948 Olympics when 81 Irish athletes competed. The first medal secured for Ireland (and Cork) this year was by rowing quartet Emily Hegarty, Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe and Fiona Murtagh in the women’s four.
Not considered major medal contenders to begin with, the girls battled hard in the second half of their final to overtake a British team that had held third position for most of the race. Emily Hegarty hails from Skibbereen, while her teammate and Galway native Aifric Keogh is a UCC graduate and member of the college’s esteemed rowing club. The reserve rower on the team was Cork’s Tara Hanlon. Their win goes down in history as the first ever Olympic medal won by female Irish rowers. Our next medal was an all-Cork affair with the unstoppable pairing of Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy taking a stylish gold in the men’s double rowing final.
The Skibbereen lads won all three of their races and even set a world record in their semi-final before fending off a powerful German challenge in the final to win Ireland’s first ever Olympic gold medal for rowing.
Boxer Aidan Walsh, having done so well to win his quarter-final, was forced to stand down after fracturing a bone in his foot while celebrating his win. Unable to compete, Walsh had to settle for bronze. Our last medal came in dramatic fashion on the very last day of the games when rock-solid boxer Kellie Harrington showed her unparalleled technical ability in the women’s lightweight final.
Kelly outfought Brazil’s Beatriz Iasmin Ferreira to take gold and to bring Ireland’s Tokyo 2020 experience to a satisfying close. It was an unlucky Olympics for some of our other medal hopefuls with reigning world champion in the women's single scull Sanita Puspure finishing fifth in her semi-final having won her heat and quarter-final.
Sanita later pulled out of her B final, revealing she hadn’t been feeling well for a number of days prior to the event. Ballincollig runner Aoife Cooke’s Olympic dream was also cut short when she was forced to withdraw from the women’s marathon just the 20k point.
In gymnastics, Cork’s Megan Ryan just missed out on a place in the all-round final, finishing 25th, one place away from the top 24 that qualified.