12 Irish success stories at the Rio Olympics

Not all of them won medals but each athlete mentioned here overachieved in their own way.

1. Annalise Murphy

Rio Olympic Games 2016 - Day Eleven Source: Martin Rickett

AFTER THE HEARTBREAK of four years ago when Murphy narrowly missed out on a medal by finishing fourth at the London Games, there was redemption for the Dubliner in Rio. Despite pre-Games suggestions that conditions in Brazil would not suit her, the 26-year-old consistently impressed during the women’s laser radial sailing. She managed to overcome the uncertainty of a race postponement as well as the ghosts of 2012, delivering an accomplished display in the medal race and claiming the silver medal, having started the day in the bronze position, in the process earning Ireland’s first medal in sailing since David Wilkins and James Wilkinson took silver in the 1980 Games in Moscow.

2. The O’Donovan brothers

Rio Olympic Games 2016 - Day Seven Source: Luca Bruno

A dark horse at best to claim a medal ahead of the Rio Games, the O’Donovan brothers secured an unlikely silver. It was Ireland’s first medal at the Rio Games as well as their first-ever medal in rowing at the Olympics. Previously, a crew that included Sam Lynch — husband of current Team Ireland star Sinead Jennings — finished fourth in the 1996 Atlanta Games, while single scull rower Sean Drea also came fourth at the 1976 Montreal Games. Moreover, it was made all the more special by the O’Donovans’ personality, as their down-to-earth style managed to charm the nation.

3. Thomas Barr

Rio Olympics Athletics Source: Lee Jin-man

Having suffered several injury problems in the lead up to the Rio Olympics, not much was expected of Thomas Barr. However, the Waterford native managed to defy the odds — first, winning his 400m hurdles semi-final in thrilling fashion, before missing out on a medal by 0.05 seconds with a time of 47.97, which would have been good enough to secure a bronze in 2012, and a silver in 2008 and 2004. The 24-year-old will surely now fancy his chances of claiming some form of silverware in Tokyo, in four years’ time.

4. Oliver Dingley

Rio Olympic Games 2016 - Day Eleven Source: Wong Maye-E

Dingley may not have won a medal like some of the aforementioned athletes, but make no mistake, he can without doubt be proud of his efforts. The Harrogate-born athlete, who qualifies to represent Ireland through his Spike Island-born grandmother, was impressive enough in simply becoming the first Irish diver since Eddie Heron in 1948 to represent Ireland at the Olympics. Yet Dingley did not rest on his laurels, becoming one of just 12 athletes to reach the 3m springboard diving final, comfortably exceeding pre-Games expectations. And during the climactic event, while he ultimately fell just short against the world’s best, Dingley still secured a brilliant eighth-place finish, having been in medal contention early on.

5. Shane Ryan

European Aquatics Championships - Day Thirteen Source: John Walton

It is not always fair to deem silverware as the difference between success and failure in sport. For instance, in soccer, Northern Ireland didn’t win Euro 2016, but that doesn’t mean their campaign was a failure — on the contrary, it was far better than anyone could have expected. Similarly, for Irish swimming, while no one came close to a medal in Rio, there have been positives to take from the last few weeks. Nicholas Quinn narrowly missed out on progression in the 200m breaststroke even after winning his heat, while despite bowing out of the 100m backstroke at the semi-final stage, Shane Ryan still managed to secure a new PB and national record (53.85) in qualifying, consequently becoming the first Irish swimmer to make an Olympic semi since Andrew Bree in 2008. Fiona Doyle, meanwhile, fell just short in her qualifier in the 100m breaststroke, missing out in controversial circumstances.

6. Scott Evans

Scott Evans thanks the fans after losing Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Dundrum native made history in Rio, becoming the first Irishman to win an Olympic badminton match, after beating Germany’s Marc Zwiebler 9-21, 21-17, 21-7. And the dream did not end in the next match, as he secured another three-set win over Brazilian Ygor Coelho de Oliveira in front of a hostile, partisan home crowd. Evans was eventually beaten by world number-four seed Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in straight sets, losing 21-16, 21-12, but received a hero’s reception in defeat, having done much to raise the profile of badminton in Ireland in recent weeks, in no small part thanks to his memorable post-game celebrations.

7. Fionnuala McCormack

Fionnuala McCormack after finishing in 20th Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Long before these Games, Fionnuala McCormack was renowned as a highly accomplished athlete, having competed at two Olympics before Rio, as well as claiming three European Cross Country gold medals (one team and two individual) and a bronze at the European Indoor Championships. However, the worry with athletes such as McCormack is that they won’t do themselves justice for one reason or another with the world watching on. Nevertheless, on this occasion, the 31-year-old marathon runner can be more than satisfied with her display. The Wicklow native put in a personal best of 2:31:22, claiming 20th place in the process at Rio de Janeiro’s Sambodrombo. Her fellow Team Ireland members Lizzie Lee and Breege Connolly also secured respectable 57th and 76th-place finishes respectively.

8. Judy Reynolds

Rio Olympic Games 2016 - Day Ten Source: John Locher

One of the less heralded athletes of these Games, Reynolds may not have captivated millions of Irish TV viewers like the O’Donoghues, Annalise Murphy and Thomas Barr, but she still enjoyed a quietly impressive Olympics. The Kildare native, along with horse Vancouver K, came 18th overall in the Dressage Freestyle final, having ranked as low as 144th in the world just over a year ago. The Germany-based athlete was therefore understandably “absolutely delighted” with her final tally of 75.696.

9. Kieran Behan

Rio Olympic Games 2016 - Day One Source: Julio Cortez

Granted, Behan seldom threatened to come close to winning a medal or achieving glory in the conventional sense, but there is still no doubt he did himself justice at his second Olympic Games. The 27-year-old London-born athlete has spoken at length of the level of sacrifice he put in and the dramatic pitfalls he has overcome simply to reach Rio, and his display once he got there was as courageous and unforgettable as any athlete at these Olympics, continuing on with his routine even after suffering an injury that later was confirmed as a dislocated knee.

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10. Natalya Coyle

Natalya Coyle Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It’s rare enough for an Irish athlete to earn one top-10 finish at the Olympics, but two at consecutive Games is particularly special. Natalya Coyle pulled off the achievement on Friday, as she followed up her ninth-place finish at London 2012 with a seventh-place spot in Rio. The Meath native posted a new personal best of 2:17.38 in the swimming event, also impressing in the showjumping while performing better than expected in the fencing. Still only 25, Coyle can be proud of her achievements, and will be fancied to continue her fine form going into the 2020 Tokyo Games.

11. Bryan Keane

Rio Olympic Games 2016 - Day Thirteen Source: Mike Egerton

It can sound trite to suggest that, for the Olympics, simply taking part is an achievement in itself, but it certainly rings true in relation to Bryan Keane in triathlon. On the face of it, you would be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing overly impressive about a 40th-place finish, but considering that he suffered a shattered kneecap in 2010 and there were fears he would never walk properly again, Rio 2016 was in many ways an incredible end to what has been an extremely arduous and emotionally draining journey back to the top.

12. Rob Heffernan

Brendan Boyce and Rob Heffernan Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

He may not have been able to repeat his bronze medal feat of 2012, but Rob Heffernan still managed a stellar display in Rio. To come sixth in the world at the age of 38 is highly impressive, particularly in the searing heat of Rio. The Cork native, competing in his fifth Olympic Games, finished with a time of 3:43:55, just under three minutes behind the winner, Matej Toth of Slovakia, who secured a time of 3:40.58. Meanwhile, Ireland’s Brendan Boyce also impressed in the 50km walk, exceeding expectations to finish in 19th place.

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