Ireland at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics

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Ireland took home its largest ever haul of Olympic boxing medals – matched in London 2012 – from the 1956 Melbourne Games in Melbourne.

However, like in Helsinki four years previously, Ireland was denied a gold following a dubious split decision.

Fredt Tiedt, John Caldwell, the recently deceased Freddie Gilroy, and Tony Socks Byrne claimed one silver and three bronze medals Down Under.

Dublin-born welterweight Tiedt of Trinity College went all the way to the final but was on a receiving end of a highly controversial split decision defeat to Romanian Nicolae Linca. The South Eastern European was awarded a 3-2 verdict which was met with a chorus of boos at the West Melbourne Stadium.

Such was the controversy, an official Olympic dispatch specifically mentioned the bout, reading “Probably the most unlucky boxer was Tiedt (Ireland) who lost a close final to Linca (Romania) after he had come through three very hard fights in his division against Aeleskra (Poland), Lane (USA) and Hogarth (Australia).”

Belfast bantam Freddie Gilroy found himself under the spotlight because of Cold War politics. The 1956 Games took place against the backdrop of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary, and any fight between a boxer from the “West” and the USSR was attracting the attention of the media.

The St John Bosco fighter, was in against favourite Boris Stepanov of the USSR and provoked an international sensation after flooring his opponent in the third.

“He was a hot favourite to lift the gold, but I caught him with a sweet left hook in the third round and I knew he was not getting back up,” recalled Gilroy, who went on the beat Italy’s Mario Sitri in the quarters to secure bronze, before losing to Germany’s eventual gold medalist Wolfgang Behrendt in the last four

Belfast flyweight Caldwell also took the early route to victory in his opening bout, with a third round stoppage of Wi Yaishwe of Burma to set up a quarter final with home favourite Warner Bachelor. The Mac Man defeated the Aussie to guarantee Ireland at least another bronze. He then lost out to Mircea Dobrescu of Romania for a place in the final.

“I was so overjoyed to be representing Ireland and wearing the green vest on such a stage. Just being there at such a young age was something special and I still find it hard to explain that feeling,” said Caldwell, who, at 18, was the youngest member of the Irish squad.

Drogheda’s Tony “Socks” Byrne also claimed bronze in Melbourne.

The Irish team captain, who carried the tricolour in Melbourne, beat Josef Chovanec of Czechoslovakia and American Louis Molin before losing to German lightweight Harry Kurschat in his semi final.

On the same day, December 1st, 1956, that Tiedt was dubiously beaten by Linca, Ronnie Delaney left the rest of the world in his wake to claim 1500m gold at the Melbourne Cricket Ground – setting a new Olympic record in the process.

Martin Smyth, Harry Perry and Patrick “Pa” Sharkey, who was living in Australia, lost their first bouts in Melbourne, with Smyth losing to Finland’s Pentti Hamalainen, who beat John McNally in the 1952 Olympic final.

The USSR finished atop the boxing medals table with three gold, one silver, and two bronze. Ireland finished in 7th position and claimed the joint third amount of medals in the ring.

The 1956 Games also marked the first Olympics in which Ireland won more bouts (9) than it lost (6).

Flyweight: Johnny Caldwell (Immaculata) – Bronze
Beat Wi Yaishwe (Burma) KO3
Beat Warner Batchelor (Australia) 3-0
Lost to Mircea Dobrescu (Romania) 0-3

Bantamweight: Freddie Gilroy (St John Bosco) – Bronze
Beat Boris Stepanov (USSR) KO3
Beat Mario Sitri (Italy) 3-0
Lost to eventual gold medallist Wolfgang Behrendt (Germany) 0-3

Featherweight Martin Smyth (Star)
Lost to Pentti Hamalainen (Finland KO2

Lightweight: Tony Byrne (Tredagh) – Bronze
Beat Josef Chovanec (Czechoslovakia) DQ3
Beat Louis Molina (USA) 3-0
Lost to Harry Kurschat (Germany) 0-3

Light-welterweight: Harry Perry (British Rail)
Lost to Claude Saluden (France) 0-3

Welterweight: Fred Tiedt (South City) – Silver
Beat Tadeusz Walasek (Poland) 3-0
Beat Pearce Lane (USA) 3-0
Beat Kevin Hogarth (Australia) 3-0
Lost to Nicolae Linca (Romania) 2-3

Heavyweight: Paddy Sharkey (Sydney)
Lost to Thorner Ahsman (Sweden) KO3

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: [email protected]