Ireland On The Sporting Map
Though less celebrated, Ireland’s place in the sporting world is still an integral part of the country’s outsized contribution to western culture and civilization.
The Emerald Isle has a modest but noteworthy record at the Olympics: 9 gold, 10 silver and 12 bronze medals.
Swimmer Michelle Smith is her nation’s most decorated Olympian, taking three gold and a bronze at the 1996 games in Atlanta.
But it’s the boxing category where Ireland punches above its weight. More than half the country’s medals were earned in fisticuffs competitions.
Katie Taylor, arguably the world’s best pound-for-pound female boxer, won gold in the lightweight at the 2012 London Olympics. Michael Carruth, her male counterpart in the welterweight, grabbed gold twenty years earlier in Barcelona.
Eight Ireland-born ringmasters made it to the International Boxing Hall of Fame: Dempsey, McLarnin, McGuigan, McCauliffe, Braddock, Morrissey, Donnelly and Coburn.
Not listed as of date is Steve Collins, the most successful of the Gaelic boxers. The “Celtic Warrior” landed middleweight titles on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1980’s-90’s.
Burnishing the shamrock on the golf course, players Rory Mcllroy, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke became international household names over the last ten years.
Mcllroy leads the Irish pack at the Majors, winning the British Open and PGA in 2014, the PGA in 2012 and the U.S. Open in 2011.
Cycling his way to a Triple Crown victory in 1987, Dublin County’s Stephen Roche is only one of two cyclists to ever win the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and World road race championship.
Joey Dunlop of Northern Ireland reached glory on a different set of two wheels, placing first place 26 times at the TT Races, the world’s most prestigious motorcycle racing event.
On the soccer pitch, legendary dribbler George Best is unquestionably the island’s greatest footballer. Listed among the top soccer players of his generation and of all time, the flamboyant Belfast native clinched the 1968 European Cup with Manchester United and was named European Footballer of the Year.
Hibernia’s winningest national team is its rugby union squad, which has won thirteen Six Nations competitions and shared eight. Their last shining moment was a grand slam in 2018.
Former captain Brian O’Driscoll holds the career record for 26 tries scored at the historic annual tournament and is regarded as one of rugby’s greatest athletes.
One of Eire’s most reputable sporting pursuits is also one of its most lucrative. County Tipperary’s Coolmore Stud is the world’s largest race horse breeder.
Through its American branch in Kentucky, Coolmore paid $13.8 Mil for the rights to 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
That investment is paying back handsomely for the old country considering the race track champ has commanded a princely sum of $200,000 per stand.
AUTO RACING May 24, 2009 Brazil’s Helio Castroneves wins the 93rd edition of the Indianapolis 500, becoming the first foreign-born driver to claim the famed chase three times (2001, 2002). Starting out from pole position in car #3, Castroneves clocked the 200-lap race in 3:19:35. Placing 2nd at the 500 in 2003, 2014 and 2017, Castrovenes is regarded as the best driver who never won an IndyCar Series championship.
RUNNING May 18, 1999 American running champion Betty Robinson dies at the age of 87. The Riverdale, Illinois native was the first female to win gold at the 100m sprint when the race was introduced to women at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. She went on to claim gold again in the 4 x 100m relay at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin after the heavily favored Germans, who were leading, dropped the baton.
HORSE RACING May 20, 1989 Pat Valenzuela wins the Preakness Stakes aboard Sunday Silence, crossing the finish line in a time of 1:538 and edging out rival Easy Goer by just a nose. Both jockey and horse had won the Kentucky Derby earlier, but would miss out on a Triple Crown three weeks later at the Belmont Stakes after trailing Easy Goer by eight lengths.
BASEBALL May 16, 1979 The NL approves the sale of the Houston Astros by the Ford Motor Company (Credit) to John McMullen. The team would sign up pitcher Nolan Ryan, baseball’s first $1 million contract, and go on to reach the playoffs the following year for the first time in franchise history. Founded as the Houston Colt .45’s, the Astros were renamed in 1965 as a reference to the nation’s space center.