Did Team Ireland miss a chance to piggyback off Britain’s strategic investment in sport?

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London 2012 has brought lots of tears, triumphs and disappointments… I was lucky enough to be in Weymouth yesterday for a near bid for success by Ireland’s Annalise Murphy, who did her country and her family proud by running the Dutch and Belgian women pretty close near the end.

She’s 22, and now knows what Olympic loss is like, and she has the talent to come back again. She gave the many Irish who turned up in the Dorset seaside resort to take some pride in some audacious sailing on a medal day. Barring the result, I loved every minute of it.

Amongst other highlights Felix Sanchez 400m hurdle gold has to figure as one of the most impressive. Dai Green may have been one of TEAM UK’s bigger disappointments, but the London crowd lifted the metaphorical roof of the Olympic stadium when the 34 year old won in the same time he had in Athens 4 8 years ago.

One time European Gold medal winner for Ireland Peter Charles helped Team GB take a show jumping gold in a playoff with Holland. The Liverpool born Charles began his international career with the UK, then in 1992 elected to ride for Ireland.

In 2007, he ‘jumped’ back to GB, and has now been rewarded with that country’s first team gold since 1952.

In fact, what’s interesting about this Olympics is how the Irish sportsmen and women that have figured most prominently in these ‘home Olympics’ have not been associated with Team Ireland, in rowing, canoeing, [Erm, track cycling? - Ed].

That, of course, is about to change with the boxing whirlwind that is Katie Taylor… and hopefully Paddy Barnes… But it is striking how many Irish sportsmen (though in the case of some sports they’ve been competing for the GB for some time) have chosen GB over Ireland.

At the end of the day, the point of sport is to win. And the point of all that deferred gratification sportsmen and women endure is to do the best they can be. In most Olympic sports, that’s become a much shorter faster route if you compete for Team GB than Team Ireland.

It’s worth remembering that in the past the gap in competence, resource and achievement was nowhere as wide as it is today. Some of that rise in success comes from the mere presence of the Olympics in London. But some of it, like the cycling actually predates the actual bid itself.

Like elections, it takes more than one Olympic cycle to create outstanding success. Some of that comes to money and investment in projects like the velodrome in Manchester.

Some to campaigns like that fronted by Steve Redgrave looking to get tall athletes to diversify into a range of sports and then select from that.

The scale of Team GB’s success does not surprise me. This rush medals came from a widespread form of strategic investment (which encompassed some intermediary infrastructure investment for the Commonwealth Games in Manchester)…

Irish sport cannot (nor should we ever expect to) do anything on that scale, but we might have expected it to have been smarter at investing more broadly in international sport in what government ministers have been keen to say were the nearest to home Olympics.

That boxing once again, which has always been possessed of a strong working class and independent culture (and one lass put through her paces from the age of six, by the National Yacht Club in Dun Laoghaire) is holding up the national honour at these games…

It begs the question why a country long accustomed to punching above its weight was not able to find more practical ways of piggybacking on the British decision to scale up their investment?

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  • FuturePhysicist

    Those supporting Ireland won’t whinge about poaching. They’ll win things the hard way and celebrate with pride.

  • OneNI

    ‘Irish sportsmen have chosen GB over Ireland.’
    Such as?

  • Mick Fealty

    OneNI, read the article… FP, that may be so, and very (Gavin) Noble of them too… but that’s not the point I was making…

  • JR

    I have to say I don’t think this has been a bad olympics for Ireland. We only have 6 Million People and even to have one world class athelete every olympics is great.

    There was an interesting duscussion on Rte the other evening asking whether we should do a Jack Charlton Job on the Olimpics. By Poaching American and British Atheletes of Irish Extraction. Apparently there are a few American swimmers and track and field atheletes who are on the fringes ot the american team who could be talked to.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    The answer to the headline is……Yes and No. In some cases it actually makes sense to train with the British and/or be semi-detached members of their squads. Thats not unusual and it works well for other smal countries to work alongside each other or in bigger squads.
    .its certainly not unusual in the Benelux countries and Scandanavia.
    But I say “yes and no” because it depends on the Sport. For example when you watched the Sailing….really only the Laser Class (men and women) is sailed competitively in Ireland….Establish yourself as the best three or four in these classes and the Irish Sailing Assn will probably send you into the world stage where you have to go thru pretty competitive championships to climb the world rankings as well as competing against the best.
    Thats probably true of the British team also (I dont know) but its also a fact that Sailing tends to attract people with money already.
    Rowing is essentially a “university” sport, where people who have been lucky enough to go to a school (inevitably public or grammar..beside a large body of water) deveop their talent. With the exception of “single skulls” Rowing is a team sport. Indeed usually the squad is developed first and seats in various boats allocated on a “horse for course” basis. In previous two decades or so, rowers from Coleraine opted for Ireland……and while I would be personally disappointed by their absolute right to opt for Britain……I acknowledge that it makes perfect sense to do so. The best Coleraine rower in an Irish boat wont win an Olympic medal.
    Indeed the fall in standards of Irish Rowing is a big issue.
    There is little or no Flatwater Canoe Racing in Ireland but there already is a lot of co-operation. Annually Irish clubs compete in the British championships in nottingham. In Slalom there is already a well established world circuit so alrready the major squads are involved…..and a hat tip to Hannah Craig here.
    The same is true of Triathlon, Modern Pentathlon. Gymnastics is an area where there can be more co-operation. The sole Irish gymnast was no Plastic Paddy but a Londoner…as Britain actually moves up the rankings theres likely to be more of that. Not every newcomer attracted to Gymnastics because of British success will make the British team. Indeed even the northerners from the Salto Gym will be looking south.

    Swimming is certainly an area to look at. The 50m pools in Dublin and Limerick are marginally successful. Indeed I was talking to the parent from a competitive swimming family….nowhere yet near international standards who claims that Irish Swimming is still rocked by twin scandals of child abuse and drugs.
    Judo………Lisa Kearney Irish player from Belfast trains in Scotland already part of that squad. Equestrianism is arguably a world class sport in Ireland although I retain a certain disdain for it….largely because of a youthful minor involvement. Several Irish Show Jumpers compte on the world stage and two in the worlds top 10 but they cant do it at championships without losing the medals to testing.
    Id attribute this to the “horse dealer” nature of the sport in Ireland. Breed a horse…develop a horse…sell the horse abroad….and national pride is secondary to making some cash on the local and European circuit.
    The Irish Equestrian people were latecomers to Olympics as there were genuine medal contestants in the 1960s (Tommy Wade/Seamus Hayes) but they were deemed “professional”. The British had a more elastic approach to professionalism.
    The eventers have always been part of the bigger British events and indeed the British always part of the Irish top competitions.

    Arguably team sport is different. The only Olympic Sport in which Ireland might be competitive is Men and Womens Hockey…..both teams losing the final Olympic qualification spot to Korea and Belgium respectively.
    Certainly for Northern players its an issue which goes back to the 1980s when Hockey (a four provinces flag type team) decided to join the Olympic Council of Ireland. Controversially this “make your mind up” ultimatum to Ulster players upset people like Jenny Redpath.
    But theres a quiet understanding that its easier for Ulster players to be good enough for an Irish squad than a British squad. Effectively they have two bites of the cherry.
    Athletics……its already the case that Irish athletes benefit from American collegiate involvement providing facilities and standards.
    Hmmm which kinda brings us to Cycling. Ive seen the Velodrome in Manchester which is a long way from the 1970s and Orangefield but to be honest Im a little wary of the sport of Cycling.

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s hard to get the kinds of improvements needed across a very very wide piste JR… So, unlike soccer, one genius appointment will not necessarily do it…

    That said, Seb Coe has done himself no end of good by these Olympics… but it’s taken a cultural shift across a wide range of sports, helped by the diversion of a lot of resource and considerable political sponsorship…

    If the Irish have one compensation, at least we’re not Australia… ;-)

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Can I just say the main competitive sports here remain GAA…..and even allowing for the fact that GAA is much more open about foreign sports ….there is a problem that Irish sport is possibly too diverse and that can only be addressed by something dictatorial.
    Weightlifting, Wrestling, Table Tennis, Olympic Handball, Voleyball, Basketball (in crisis) Fencing, Archery are all played in Ireland………and saving Modern Pentathlon style miracles (where Ireland have competiors who have qualified for the Games thru a rigourous qualification process) ….these sports are merely a drain on limited resources.
    Does Cuba even have a soccer team? Any Cuban Tennis players?
    Selecting say twenty sports to fund…would be dictatorial and would never be done…..but it would work.

  • turnpike

    I’d say Ireland has done pretty well from UK sport i.e. the 14 Northern Ireland athletes in the Ireland Olympic Squad – Paddy (I’m too Irish for my…) Barnes, Gavin Noble, Triathlon etc

  • Mick Fealty

    turnpike,

    You think the resources in NI were critical to GB’s Irish successes? I’d suggest that most of the critical resources were in GB itself…

  • JR

    Mick,
    I think the point was that one American born Hammer thrower wearing green and collecting a medal to the sound of Amhrain na Fhainn could enspire a new generation of home grown talent.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Investment is the key, Mick, no doubt about that. The better the facilities and coaches the higher the standards will rise. Despite some trolls on here, I’m happy for the people of GB for their success as they’re a fantastic island of sports lovers and put the money in.

    I think we on the Emerald Isle love many sports too and that’s our problem with a small population. Compare us to similar sized populations like Norway and Denmark who are good at football, and some individual sports, but they don’t even compete at rugby, while Ireland has brilliant provincial sides and a decent international team draining athletes from other sports.

    Then we have GAA, the national game which drains athletes away from bettering themselves at other sports. Add the level of horseracing in this country, golf, boxing etc.. We even had a Tour De France winner before GB.

    We need to concentrate on a few sports like New Zealand (are they near Ireland’s level in football, horseracing, boxing, golf?) and stop trying to compete at a high level at so many sports when we simply haven’t the numbers to do it.

  • Republic of Connaught

    An example of the benefits of mastering one sport – Kerry in football and Kilkenny in Hurling.

    Kerry are rubbish at hurling and produce no soccer players and Kilkenny are rubbish at football and produce no soccer players. But like New Zealand at rugby, they excel at their chosen game when it’s the game they totally focus on.

  • salgado

    RoC
    “I’m happy for the people of GB for their success as they’re a fantastic island of sports lovers and put the money in.”

    What about the rest of the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team? Are you not happy for them?

  • Republic of Connaught

    Salgado,

    If you’re British then you’re part of the GB team. They don’t mention NI so why should I?

  • salgado

    I’ll take that as a rather bitter “no”.

  • Republic of Connaught

    Salgado,

    “No” was what Gregory Campbell and Nelson McCausland were told when they wanted the GB team to be called team UK.

    Don’t blame me for it.

    .

  • salgado

    Well, they’ve said no enough in the past. They were bound to hear it back at some point.

    I’m with David Mitchell on this one. Team GB is just a rather poor branding exercise (a view a lot of my English friends seem to share).
    I do notice that the BBC still lists “Great Britain and Northern Ireland” in the results tables.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2008/aug/23/olympics2008.britisholympicmedals

  • Republic of Connaught

    I agree, Salgado.

    I think UK is far better known worldwide than GB so don’t really understand it myself. If all of Ireland was in the UK and they tried that, it would be very a different story.

  • Mick Fealty

    Can I just say, we already have a GB v UK thread elsewhere…

  • salgado

    Sorry about that!

    In response to FJH earlier in the thread
    “Does Cuba even have a soccer team? Any Cuban Tennis players?
    Selecting say twenty sports to fund…would be dictatorial and would never be done…..but it would work.”

    Back in 2004 and 2008 Cuba actually won medals over quite a range of events – javelin, shot put, hammer throw, pole vault, shooting, canoeing, volleyball and cycling, judo, taekwondo, hurdles and (of course) boxing.

    Maybe Team Ireland should reorganise, but do they really have to limit themselves? You would then run the risk of losing exceptional athletes when they pop up because you don’t fund the full range of sports.

  • sherdy

    Was it the American swimming coach who judged the young Chinese swimmer’s improvement to win gold was drugs assisted?
    How does he judge the unbelievable improvement in the medals tally of Team GB – is it also drugs assisted?

  • ayeYerMa

    What another truly weird post on the Olympics on this site — first Brian and now Mick.

    OneNI, I have no idea what “But it is striking how many Irish sportsmen have chosen GB over Ireland” means either. Why is it “striking” that sportsmen born and living in the UK choose to represent their national UK team rather than the foreign Republic of Ireland team??? Are we expected to assume that it is the norm to have the delusional psychiatric disorder some have whereby they have to compete for a southern team, under a southern flag and a southern anthem to vindicate their “Irishness”? Is it the norm to assume that so many of our local athletes are such a bunch of losers that they aren’t good enough for the national team so have to compete as rejects in a foreign Republic of Ireland team instead?

    Once again the IOC rules for those who seem so confused to find this “striking”:

    Olympic Charter rule 31.1: ” In the Olympic Charter, the expression “country” means an independent State recognised by the international community”

    Olympic Charter rule 29.5 “The area of jurisdiction of an NOC must coincide with the limits of the country in which it is established and has its headquarters.”

    “Team Ireland” (sic) is NOT an all-Ireland team like what the rugby team is supposed to be.

    … and how on earth is it respectful for those competing for the Republic of Ireland team to try and “piggyback” off the British team? (I assume meaning by using their training facilities and funding?) Why should British sport be funding those who choose to compete under a foreign flag? How is that respectful? How does that help social cohesion throughout the whole United Kingdom?

  • Mark

    How goes it in that white supremacy protestant world you live in and what are you talking about ayeYerMa ? . Are you able to reply without insulting Southern Irish people . It’s the Olympics ffs it’s not 1972 but you seem incapable of making your point without insulting people . You can clearly agrue a point but the abuse ?? …….wtf ?

  • HeinzGuderian

    How goes it in that white supremacy protestant world you live in and what are you talking about ayeYerMa ? . Are you able to reply without insulting Southern Irish people . It’s the Olympics ffs it’s not 1972 but you seem incapable of making your point without insulting people . You can clearly agrue a point but the abuse ?? …….wtf ?
    ^^^^^^^^^^^^

    Irony much ?

  • Mark

    cont …

    Irish Boxing has gotten their fair share of funding in the last ten years . Kenny Egan , Darren Sutherland etc won medals in China . Aym makes the point about sharing facilities but is that really feasible when you will be competing with the same athletes . Athletes PB’s ( personal best ) times would be known as would strategies for boxing etc .

    The problem is that promising sports people are being encouraged to play the usual suspects ( soccer / rubgy / GAA etc ) and professional life and the money that comes with it seems more practical these days to a young athlete . A young Irish lad of eight or nine recently signed for Barcelona and the club is moving the whole family lock stock …… How can an event that comes around every four years compete with that .

  • Mark

    Typo – Rugby … and Heinz , I have shown that guy respect in the past and responded to a post of his in a positive manner and the guy still just insults people . There’s a big debate on a Dublin based site about Slugger and while Northerners are welcome on that site , the likes of AYM have a problem with Southern based posters on here .

  • the future’s bright, the future’s orange

    ‘In fact, what’s interesting about this Olympics is how the Irish sportsmen and women that have figured most prominently in these ‘home Olympics’ have not been associated with Team Ireland, in rowing, canoeing, [Erm, track cycling? - Ed].

    That, of course, is about to change with the boxing whirlwind that is Katie Taylor… and hopefully Paddy Barnes… But it is striking how many Irish sportsmen (though in the case of some sports they’ve been competing for the GB for some time) have chosen GB over Ireland.’

    It’s striking to me that a commentator of your experience finds this striking….

  • ayeYerMa

    Mark, please quote me where in the prior single post on this thread where I have mentioned any of the following:
    – race
    – religion
    – abuse towards those in southern Ireland

    The only people I may have insulted are those in Northern Ireland living in a state of delusion, and those in Northern Ireland who are not good enough to make our national team and so exploit and abuse yours.

    It seems that my quotation of facts from the IOC seem to have sent you into a spasm of rage as you seem unable to come to terms with the reality not matching your little romantic notions of Irish irredentism that you were indoctrinated with as a child. If you are so “insulted” by facts then you deserve to be insulted.

  • the future’s bright, the future’s orange

    Conlon fighting now – doing really well so far! Hold on to your hats!

  • the future’s bright, the future’s orange

    All square end of 1st round! Good fight!

  • the future’s bright, the future’s orange

    all square after 2nd round!!! Conlon picking off really well but no combos. hard to call this one!

  • the future’s bright, the future’s orange

    Cracking fight. Frenchman huffed and puffed but conlon was clinical!
    22-18 win – superb win! bronze in the bag at least!

  • JM

    turnpike: I’d say Ireland has done pretty well from UK sport i.e. the 14 Northern Ireland athletes in the Ireland Olympic Squad – Paddy (I’m too Irish for my…) Barnes, Gavin Noble, Triathlon etc”

    —-

    I don’t know about all these 14 NI born athletes, but Paddy Barnes is a carded athlete by the Irish Sports Council to the tune of €40k per annum (top level of funding – ‘podium’ – similar to Katie Taylor) and the boxers all train in the High Performance Unit in Dublin. (Information is available on Irish Sports.

    All this information is available on the Irish Sports Council website.

  • Mark

    AyeYerma ,

    Read your own post back to yourself if you want . People can make their own minds up by reading some of your previous comments concerning the South , it’s meddling in your affairs etc , it’s all there . Someone else pulled you up about the exact same thing and 3/4 people agreed with him / her the other night . There is a thin line and we’ve all crossed it from to time but and again it’s only my opinion ,you’ve a problem with Southern Irish people and when you do it again and you will , I’ll more than likely pull you up on it and it’s not because I’ve one of these Slugger egos people are talking about lol ……. night

  • ayeYerMa

    Mark, you’re damn right I have problems with southern irredentism, jingoism and interference in the affairs of people in another country. Good fences make good neighbours — show some respect and it shall be shown in return.

    (and, really do you think that I give a toss if “3/4″ always “offended” Republican sheep agree with each other?)

  • Mark

    These amazing performances by the Irish boxers esp young Michael Conlon ( great post fight interview ) from Belfast tonight just highlights how good our athletes could become if we had the funding some of the other countries have .

  • Mark

    AyeYerMa ,

    I don’t care what you think about Republicans , Ireland or sheep . Just have some manners when you speak to people . Good manners cost nothing as my old dear says so try ……

  • Alias

    “…just highlights how good our athletes could become if we had the funding some of the other countries have .”

    Actually, it highlights that state funding isn’t needed. Irish success has been in the areas where the state has kept its nose out. Where it has stuck said nose in, it hasn’t made any difference – beyond squandering of limited taxpayer resources. Rowing, running, boxing, swimming, etc, are all areas where a talented individual can succeed without the nanny-state.

    Two other issues here are Irish folks favouring sports that are not international sports (e.g. hurling, gaelic football) and therefore don’t lend themselves to medal-garnering in the same way that nations that favour international sports do. Secondly, states pervert the ethos of the Olympics by attempting to buy success with factory-produced athletes, thereby giving the larger states with greater tax revenue an unfair advantage over the smaller states. State investment should be banned, not promoted.

  • gary oh

    As usual a valiant post descends into farce. Team UK have been immense. Maybe I am naïve but I am very surprised by some of the posters from NI like ask yer ma. Foam at the mouth all you want. Its team ireland and that’s that. I think the games have shown the UK in a great light. One thing I will say about the brits they are a fair bunch and they gave the irish a lovely welcome. There is a love in now big time with the UK (mainland) and the republic.

  • neutralist

    AYM,
    I forgot to add ‘insolence’ to ‘audacity, effrontery’, etc.
    If the ‘whingeathon’ were an Olympic event you would walk away with the go
    The advice about showing respect and getting in in return would be best directed while facing into a mirror.
    The ‘fence’ you aspire to is not a ‘good’ one — but a malign one like the Berlin Wall dividing countrymen and countrywomen from each other.
    I habe gradually lost sympathy for your position to the extent that at the next rugby international when the Ulster guys are standing for Amhran Na bhFiann I will think of you and permit myself a wry smile.

  • neutralist

    ‘Go’ should read ‘gold’.

  • ayeYerMa

    “Republic of Connaught”: “I think UK is far better known worldwide than GB so don’t really understand it myself.”.

    Perhaps you might ask your own Dublin-based Olympic committee why it keeps trying to object to the UK olympic team trying to call itself the UK? I believe this is actually at the core of the issue.

    “Gary Oh”: “Its team ireland and that’s that.”
    QED on the irrational jingoism from Eire.

    “neutralist”: the fence marks our right to self-determination and non-interference from Dublin as supported by democractic vote for a century — deal with it. Perhaps also the IOC rules have struck a raw nerve for you, so here they are again:

    Olympic Charter rule 31.1: ” In the Olympic Charter, the expression “country” means an independent State recognised by the international community”

    Olympic Charter rule 29.5 “The area of jurisdiction of an NOC must coincide with the limits of the country in which it is established and has its headquarters.”

    As “Gary Oh” would say “that is that”.

    Regarding the soldiers song at Irish Rugby, yes I think it is disgracefully disrespectful that it is played at all. As for the NI rugby players who just stand there and take it, well smirk all you like but I find such NI players equally pathetic — they should either belt out God Save The Queen as loud as they can or boycott the team altogether. Then again, the hierarchies of Ulster Rugby are dominated by brown-nosing middle-class types who will never want to “rock the boat” and will always rather take lessons in “manners” from southern jingoists like “Mark” than stand up for themselves. A lesson on why anything “all-Ireland” simply means our subjugation.

    PS: you sensitive southern souls might also want to read my comments in full as I actually wished your athletes well, and pointed out that Brian Walker’s thread was absurd.

  • gary oh

    I couldn’t agree more on the rugby issue. Tbh I am not a huge rugger fan, but I find it disrespectful to NI that they are treated like this. All flags and anthems should be shown/played or none. But the olympics is such a unique oppurtunity and I wouldn’t begrudge any athlete exploring every oppurtunity to compete at the greatest show on earth. You quote the rules there but we all know the rules are bended regularly. Like I said before team UK have chinese, germans, africans so surely a guy from the island of Ireland can compete for irish team. And he’s hardly a loser if he is going to potentially medal ie conlan and barnes.

  • gary oh

    Btw I didn’t find anything you said offensive. You have your position (some of which I agree with) and I have mine. All of us southerners are not down here scheming to get your land! Sometimes the jingoism you speak of can be attributed to ignorance or arrogance. I hope that’s true.

  • Desmond Trellace

    No need for doom and gloom, Mick. According to a quick statistical analysis I’ve just carried out on the biggest 25 islands in the world the island of Ireland is currently in third place as regards medals per capita.

    1. New Zealand (islands in south Pacific) – 1 medal per 440,000
    2. Australia (does Aussie qualify as an island?) – 1 medal per 870,000
    3. Ireland (island in Atlantic) – 1 medal per 1,070,000
    4. Great Britain (island between mainland Ireland and mainland Europe) – 1 medal per 1,280,000
    5. Cuba (island in Carribean) – 1 medal per 1,600,000
    6. Japan (island in Pacific) – 1 medal per 4,410,000

    Those are currently the top 6.

    If one counts Australia as a continent, then Ireland is the second medliest island in the world. (Now, no boasting please, just take it in your sporting Olympic stride.)

  • Desmond Trellace

    …and if you calculate the medals per capita of the top 10 teams (Australia are number 11, but never mind) on the medals table only Hungary have a better ratio than Team Ireland. Britain are doing very well too.

    Amazing what ones learns from the old stats. Hungary, please take a bow!

  • the future’s bright, the future’s orange

    Quick question – why does boxing dish out 2 bronzes?

  • Mark

    Future’s bright …..

    There is no 3rd / 4th place fight to determine the bronze medalist nor is there a way to decide which losing semi – finalist deserves the bronze so they dish out two …..

  • Desmond Trellace

    There was really no reason for you to worry, Mick. As I wrote in Brian Walker’s thread:

    “I am happy to say that Ireland has now entered the small exclusive club of Olympic participants (including Hungary, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Slovenia) whose number of medals is higher than the number of millions of populaton (i.e. medal per capita ratio less than 1,000,000).

    I will continue to cheer on the host country’s gallant athletes and will keep my fingers crossed that it also enters this exclusive club before the Games are over.”

    Notwithstanding all this, the points you make retain their validity in many respects.

  • BluesJazz

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/19180854

    looking forward to the Aussie sports minister eating her hat in public.

    As to the boxers getting gold for 4th, does this happen in any other event? 4th used to get ‘copper’ a while ago?