By Bernard O’Neill
Irish boxing took home one silver and three bronze from the Melbourne 1956 Olympics.
The haul was only surpassed, in terms of the colour of the medals, at London 2012 where Katie Taylor (gold), John Joe Nevin (silver), Paddy Barnes (bronze) and Michael Conlan (bronze) occupied four podium positions.
Fred Tiedt, John Caldwell, Freddie Gilroy and Tony Byrne secured one silver and three bronze medals Down Under over sixty years ago.
Dublin-born Tiedt, boxing in the welterweight class, went all the way to the final but was on a receiving end of a highly controversial split decision reversal to Nicolae Linca of Romania.
Linca was awarded a 3-2 verdict amid hoots of derision at the West Melbourne Stadium on December 1, 1956.
Even an official Olympic dispatch specifically mentioned the 1956 welterweight final. It read: “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).”
But despite the protests, Tiedt had to settle for silver.
Meanwhile, Belfast’s Freddie Gilroy found himself under the spotlight in Australia.
The 1956 Games took place amid the backdrop of political tensions, to put it diplomatically, between the Soviet Union and Hungary and any contest between a boxer from the “West” and the USSR was attracting the attention of the media.
Gilroy, of the St John Bosco BC, was in against 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,” said Gilroy, who went on the beat Italy’s Mario Sitri in the quarter-finals – a win that secured at least bronze – before losing to Germany’s Wolfgang Behrendt, the eventual gold medallist, in the semi-finals.
Belfast flyweight Caldwell also took the early route to victory in his opening bout, a third-round KO of Wi Yaishwe of Burma setting up a quarter-final with Warner Bachelor of Australia, which the Immaculata BC man won to guarantee Ireland at least another bronze.
But he 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 1956 boxing squad.
Caldwell turned professional in 1958 and won 29 of his 35 outings in the paid ranks.
Drogheda’s Tony “Socks” Byrne also claimed bronze in Melbourne. The Ireland team captain, who carried the Irish flag in Melbourne, beat Josef Chovanec of Czechoslovakia and Louis Molina (USA) before losing to German lightweight Harry Kurschat.
On the same day that Tiedt was controversially beaten by Linca, Ronnie Delaney left the rest of the world in his slipstream to claim 1500m gold at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, setting a new Olympic record in the process.
The Irish Olympic 1956 Olympic team arrived home through Shannon Airport in early December with one gold, one silver and three bronze medals. Martin Smyth, Harry Perry and Patrick “Pa” Sharkey 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 on top of the medals table in the boxing event at the 1956 Games. Ireland finished in 7th position.
The London 2012 boxing team finished in joint 5th position with Kazakhstan.
Between them, the Melbourne 1956 and London 2012 squads secured half of Irish boxing’s 16 Olympic medals – one gold, two silver, and five bronze.
Hungarian legend Lazlo Papp won a third Olympic gold in Melbourne where, according to the one report, Ireland and Great Britain flew the flag for western Europe.
Donegal’s Paddy Sharkey, who was working in Australia at the time, lined out for Ireland at heavyweight at the 16th Olympiad.
(Images: Fred Tiedt and Freddie Gilroy with actor Liam Neeson, a former Ballymena BC boxer. Neeson is holding a picture of himself with Gilroy from the 1960s. Hollywood star Neeson described Gilroy as his boyhood hero).
Flyweight: John 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