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names to watch Ireland's big hopes for medals at the 2022 Olympics Games in Toyko

Rowers Rhys and Kellie lead Irish medal charge in Tokyo

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Rhys McClenaghan is Ireland’s most decorated gymnast.

Rhys McClenaghan is Ireland’s most decorated gymnast.

Rhys McClenaghan is Ireland’s most decorated gymnast.

The 2012 Olympics in London were Ireland’s showcase Games.

The boxing team led the way with Katie Taylor (gold), John Joe Nevin (silver), Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan (both bronze), as well as Cian O’Connor’s bronze in show jumping, grabbing the headlines.

Four years later, Rob Heffernan – who had finished fourth in the 50km walk – was presented with a bronze medal after Russian winner Sergey Kirdyapkin was banned for doping.

So, how will Ireland fare in Tokyo? Here we nominate five medal prospects:

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Paul O’Donovan (left) and Fintan McCarthy.

Paul O’Donovan (left) and Fintan McCarthy.

Paul O’Donovan (left) and Fintan McCarthy.

1. Rowing

Paul O’Donovan/Fintan McCarthy Lightweight Double Sculls

Though burdened with the unwanted tag of favourites, O’Donovan and McCarthy have every reason to be optimistic. Prior to the Rio Games, few outside the rowing community had heard of the O’Donovan brothers, Paul and Gary.

It wasn’t just their silver-medal performance which catapulted them into the Irish consciousness. Rather, it was their quirky humour and tall tales about eating spuds and rowing like dogs. This sideshow masked how deadly serious they were on the water.

At this level, sport is ruthless and Paul O’Donovan has a new partner, another Skibbereen rowing prodigy, Fintan McCarthy. Gary is the reserve.

Paul O’Donovan is by far Ireland’s most successful oarsman having won four world gold medals, two European gold, as well as an Olympic silver. Now, at the peak of his prowess, the 27-year-old trainee doctor is an ambitions guy.

The Irish pair are the world and European champions – they have beaten all the other contenders and are faster than in 2016. The Norwegian crew pose a serious threat but, on form, O’Donovan and McCarthy ought to win gold.

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Boxer Kellie Harrington.

Boxer Kellie Harrington.

Boxer Kellie Harrington.

2. Boxing

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Kellie Harrington, Lightweight

Ranked as the No 1 lightweight in the tournament, Harrington (right) will be the top seed in Tokyo. The 2018 world champion recovered from two serious hand injuries to stamp her authority on the resumed Olympic qualifier in Paris last month, where she won the gold medal.

It remains to be seen whether the judging in Tokyo, which is now under the direction of a special task force, will be less problematic than it was in Rio. At the best of times, it is subjective, though the top seeds tend to get the benefit of the doubt.

Current world champion Beatrix Ferreira from Brazil, who is the third seed, is the gold-medal favourite. But Harrington and Ferreira cannot meet until the final on Sunday, August 8.

The two bronze medallists from the 2019 worlds, Rashida Ellis (US) and, in particular, 40-year-old Mika Potkonen, pose serious threats to Harrington’s ambitions.

The Finn ended Katie Taylor’s Olympic reign in Rio and has the Indian sign over Harrington, beating her in their four clashes since 2013. Harrington needs to avoid her in next Thursday’s draw. Nonetheless, she is capable of winning Ireland’s first medal in boxing since the 2012 Games.


3. Gymnastics

Rhys McClenaghan, Pommel Horse

McClenaghan’s uncharacteristic error in the final of the European Championships in Basel last April, which resulted in him finishing fifth, might have been a blessing in disguise. It has taken the focus away from the 21-year-old Newtownards gymnast and allowed him and his coach Luke Carson time to fine tune their preparations.

There is a high attribution in the pommel horse. At the Europeans, for example, the reigning world and Olympic champion Max Whitlock from England failed to make the final after he fell off during qualification.

McClenaghan is already Ireland’s most successful gymnast, winning gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and European Championships, before securing Ireland’s first-ever world championship medal – a bronze – in 2019 in Stuttgart.

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Rathfarnham sailor Annalise Murphy.

Rathfarnham sailor Annalise Murphy.

Rathfarnham sailor Annalise Murphy.

4. Sailing

Annalise Murphy, Laser Radial

Nobody is better equipped to cope with the unique challenges of being an Olympian than the 31-year-old Rathfarnham sailor (right). This is her third Olympics. Better still, her form line at this level is consistently excellent.

Nine years ago in London, she won four preliminary races and looked poised to secure the gold medal at one point. But everything changed in the final race and Murphy ended up in fourth.

Four years later, she wasn’t to be denied. She held her nerve in the final race in Rio to finish second and secure an Olympic silver medal.

Since Rio, Murphy expanded her horizons. She took part in the Volvo round-the-world Ocean race and moved to the 49erFX, a two-hander boat, where she partnered Katie Tingle with a view to qualifying for Tokyo. But, in the end, Murphy reverted to the Laser Radial and qualified. Though her form line is not as impressive as in the lead-up to Rio, nothing beats experience at this level.

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Liam Jegou competes in the C1 event in canoeing.

Liam Jegou competes in the C1 event in canoeing.

Liam Jegou competes in the C1 event in canoeing.

5. Canoe Slalom

Liam Jegou, C1 slalom

Born in Clare but based in France, Jegou had the honour of being the first Irish athlete selected for the Tokyo Olympics last year. Training alongside the best canoeists in Pau, the spiritual home of his sport, he made history last November by winning Ireland’s first-ever World Cup gold medal in the C1 category. Admittedly, the event took place on what is effectively his ‘home’ course in Pau. Nonetheless, it was a seminal breakthrough for the 25-year old.

His event is extremely challenging. He must navigate a passage through 18 to 25 gates in just over 90 seconds. If any part of his boat, paddle or body touches a gate, then it significantly reduces his chances of a medal. If he misses a gate, he blows his chances.

Only 17 canoeists qualified to compete in the Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre in Tokyo. Currently ranked 38th in the world, Jegou has earned a unique opportunity to make history.


Team Ireland Olympic diary for next weekend

Friday, July 23

All times listed are Irish times

Rowing:

Women’s Single Sculls (Sanita Puspure): Heats, Sea Forest Waterway, 1.30am

Men’s Double Sculls (Philip Doyle/Ronan Byrne): Heats, Sea Forest Waterway, 1.30am

Opening Olympics Ceremony: Olympic Stadium, 12 noon

Saturday, July 24

Badminton:

Men’s Singles Group Match (Nhat Nguyen, below), Musashine Forest Sports Plaza, 2.0am

Boxing:

Women’s Featherweight, Preliminaries Round of 32 (Michaela Walsh): Kokugikan Arena, 3am

Men’s Featherweight, Preliminaries Round of 32 (Kurt Walker): Kokugikan Arena, 3am

Men’s Welterweight, Preliminaries Round of 32 (Aidan Walsh): Kokugikan Arena, 3am

Cycling:

Men’s Road Race (Nicholas Roche, Dan Martin, Eddie Dunbar): 3am

Equestrian:

Dressage Individual Day 1 (Heike Holstein): Equestrian Park, 9am

Gymnastics:

Pommel Horse (Rhys McClenaghan): Qualification, Ariake Gymnastics Centre, 9am

Hockey

Ireland v South Africa, Pool Match, Oi Hockey Stadium, 11am

Rowing

Women’s Single Sculls (Sanita Puspure): Repechage, Sea Forest Waterway, 1.30am

Men’s Double Sculls (Philip Doyle, Ronan Byrne): Repechage, Sea Forest Waterway, 1.30am

Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls (Paul O’Donovan/Fintan McCarthy): Heats, Sea Forest Waterway, 1.30am

Women’s Lightweight Double Sculls (Aoife Casey/Margaret Cremen): Heats, Sea Forest Waterway

Women’s Pair (Monika Dukarska/Aileen Crowley): Heats, Sea Forest Waterway

Swimming

Men’s 100m breaststroke (Darragh Greene): Heats, Tokyo Aquatics Centre, 11am

Women’s 100m butterfly (Ellen Walshe): Heats, Tokyo Aquatic Centre, 11am

Taekwondo

Men’s 58kg (Jack Wooley): Elimination Rounds, 2am, Final 7am, Makuhari Messe Hall A

Sunday, July 24

Badminton

Men’s Singles Group Match (Nhat Nguyen): Musashine Forest Sports Plaza, 2.0am

Boxing

Men’s Light heavyweight, Preliminaries Round of 32 (Emmet Brennan): Kokugikan Arena, 3am

Canoeing

Men’s Slalom CI, (Liam Jegou): Heats, Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre, 5am

Equestrian

Dressage Individual Day 2 (Heike Hostein): Equestrian Park, 9am

Rowing

Women’s Four (Emily Hegarty, Fiona Murtagh, Eimear Lambe, Aifric Keogh): Heats, Sea Forest Waterway, 1.30

Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls (Paul O’Donovan/Fintan McCarthy): Repechage, Sea Forest Waterway, 1.30am

Women’s Lightweight Double Sculls (Aoife Casey/Margaret Cremen): Repechage, Sea Forest Waterway

Women’s Pair (Monika Dukarska/Aileen Crowley): Repechage, Sea Forest Waterway

Sailing

Laser Radial (Annalise Murphy): Fleet race, Enoshima Yacht Club, 4am

Swimming

Men’s 100m backstroke (Shane Ryan): Heats, Tokyo Aquatics Centre, 11am

Women’s 100m breaststroke (Mona McSharry): Heats, Tokyo Aquatics Centre, 11am

Women’s 200IM (Danielle Hill): Heats, Aquatics Centre, 11am

Men’s 100m breaststroke (Darragh Greene): Semi-final, Tokyo Aquatics Centre, 2.30am

Women’s 100m butterfly (Ellen Walshe): Semi-final, Tokyo Aquatic Centre, 2.30am

(Time table subject to change. All times listed are also approximate and are the start times of session)

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