Hughie Russell wrote another illustrious page in the history of Irish boxing at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.
Prior to Russell’s trip behind the former Iron Curtain, his fellow Belfast fighter, the great Jim McCourt, claimed lightweight bronze in Tokyo, and Russell, who boxed out of the Holy Family BC, bridged that 16-year gap at the Games in Soviet Russia.
The Ulster flyweight’s path to the semi-finals, a finish that was enough to secure at least bronze, saw him dispatch Samir Khiniab of Iraq and Emmanuel Mlundwa of Tanzania in the preliminaries and last-16, both wins by way of unanimous (5-0) decisions.
That left Ryon-Sik Yo standing between the Irish champion and at least bronze. It proved to be a tough one, the Holy Family man earning a split decision (3-2) over the North Korean to ensure that an Irish athlete would occupy one of the podiums in the Russian capital.
Russell lost out at the semi-final stage to Bulgaria’s eventual gold medallist, Petar Lessov.
Barry McGuigan KO’d Issack Mabushi of Tanzania in his opener, but was then beaten by Winfred Kabunda of Zambia – who was defeated by the eventual gold medallist (Rudi Fink, East Germany) in the next round.
McGuigan broke his hand in the lead up to the Games and admitted that the injury had not healed up fully and that he was having difficulty with his timing and accuracy in Moscow. The Kabunda reversal was only his third loss in the senior ranks.
Five years after his trip to the 1980 Games, McGuigan claimed the WBA World featherweight title on a famous night at Loftus Road in London.
Russell’s Irish team-mate Gerry Hawkins received a bye through the first phase in Moscow, but then lost out in his first fight to Bulgaria’s Ismail Moustafov, who would go on to win bronze in the light flyweight class.
Two-time European medallist, Phil Sutcliffe, who also had to contend with hand injuries and fight through the pain barrier in Moscow, also lost his first bout, the Dubliner was defeated by Mexican bantamweight Daniel Zaragoza.
Zaragoza, nicknamed “Mouse”, didn’t medal at the 1980 Olympics, but he certainly made an impression in the pro ranks, winning four World titles between 1985 and 1995 and defeating Wayne McCullough.
Sean Doyle, trading leather in the lightweight class at the Olympski Sports Complex Stadium, KO’d Nelson Trujillo Trujillo of Venezuela, but was then beaten by Romania’s Florian Livadaru, while Martin Brereton went out a eventual bronze medallist, Jose Aguilar of Cuba.
PJ Davitt, the second Phoenix BC boxer to represent Ireland at an Olympiad, was beaten by Ionel Budusan of Romania.
Cuba won an astonishing 10 medals (six of which were gold) from the eleven weight categories to command top spot in the medals table in Moscow. The USSR, despite having home advantage, finished second. Ireland, thanks to Russell, finishes in joint 12th spot in the medals table with Czechslovakia, Great Britain, Guyana and North Korea.
Ireland’s David Wilkins and James Wilkinson, competing in the Flying Dutchman Class (sailing), won silver in Moscow.
The USA did not enter the 1980 Olympics in protest at the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
Light Flyweight: Gerry Hawkins (Holy Trinity)
Lost to eventual bronze medalist Ismail Moustafov (Bulgaria) 0-5
Flyweight: Hughie Russell (Holy Family) – Bronze
Beat Samir Khiniab (Iraq) 5-0
Beat Emmanuel Mlundwa (Tanzania) 5-0
Beat Ryon-sik Yo (North Korea) 3-2
Lost to eventual gold medalist Petar Lessov (Bulgaria) 0-5
Bantamweight: Phil Sutcliffe (Drimnagh)
Lost to Daniel Zaragoza (Mexico) 0-5
Featherweight: Barry McGuigan (Smithboro)
Beat Issack Mabushi (Tanzania) TKO3
Lost to Winfred Kabunda (Zambia) 1-4
Lightweight : Sean Doyle (St Joseph’s)
Beat Nelson Trujillo (Venezuela) TKO2
Lost to Florian Livadaru (Romania) TKO2
Light Welterweight : Martin Brereton (Edenderry)
Lost to Jose Aguilar (Cuba) TKO1
Welterweight: PJ Davitt (Phoenix)
Lost to Ionel Budusan (Romania) 0-5