The Medals that Could Have Been
By Bernard O’Neill – IABA Press Officer
Irish boxing prides itself on winning sixteen medals at the Olympics.However, the count would now be twenty if the current rules governing the awarding of Olympic boxing medals were in place for the 1924, 1928, 1932 and 1948 Games.
The forgotten men of Ireland’s Olympic boxing history, Patrick Dwyer, Frank Traynor, Jim Murphy and Mick McKeon (pictured, credit Irish Press), were the first Irish boxers to reach Olympic semi-finals before WW2.
But the 1952 Olympiad in Helsinki marked the first occasion where losing semi-finalists were awarded bronze. Prior to Helsinki, losing semi-finalists had to box-off for third place.
Tipperary’s Paddy Dwyer, Army BC, beat Great Britain’s Richard Basham, Anton Cornellus of the Netherland’s and Francois Stauffer of Switzerland to reach the last-four at Paris 1924, Ireland’s first Olympics as an independent nation.
But he lost his semi-final to Argentina’s Hector Mendez, the eventual silver medallist. The Thurles welter sustained a deep cut on his forehead in that bout – as a result of a headbutt, according to reports – and had to cede a walkover to Canada’s Douglas Lewis in the bronze medal box-off.
Four years later at Amsterdam 1928, Dublin bantamweight Frank Traynor, St Paul’s BC, beat Fuji Okamato of Japan and Carmelo Robledo of Argentina to make the semi-finals but was beaten in the last-four by Italy’s Vittorio Tamagnini, the eventual gold medallist. Traynor lost the box-off to Harry Isaacs of South Africa on points.
A third Irish fighter, Cork’s Jim Murphy (Army/Garda), reached the light-heavy semi-finals at Los Angeles 1932, but the injury jinx struck again. Murphy received a bye into the quarter-finals in LA and beat John Miller of the USA. However, he had to retire injured in the first round versus Italy’s eventual silver medallist Ginno Rossi in the semi-finals. The injury kept him out of the bronze medal box-off against Peter Joergensen of Denmark. Irish sport didn’t enter the 1936 Games in Berlin.
Ireland sent an eight-strong boxing squad to London 1948 where Mick McKeon (ITC) reached the last-four. The Irish middleweight beat John Keenan (Canada), Hossein Toussi (Iran) and Aime-Joseph Escudie (France) on his way to the business end of the tournament, but lost to Great Britain’s eventual silver medallist Johnny Wright. McKeon ceded a walkover in his box-off with Ivano Fontano of Italy because of an injury sustained versus Wright.
The London Games of that year marked the last Olympics to feature bronze medal box-offs. Four years later in Helsinki – where the great John McNally won Ireland’s first Olympic boxing medal (silver) – the rules were changed and losing semi-finalists were awarded bronze, but they had to wait.
The Finnish Boxing Association instigated the move to abolish bronze medal box-offs, a move which was rubber stamped by the International Boxing Association and given tacit approval by the IOC. But the 1952 bronze medals were presented retrospectively years later. The losing semi-finalists in Helsinki were, however, awarded certificates and their national flags were raised.
Basically, if Dwyer, Traynor, Murphy and McKeon had achieved what they achieved at any Olympics after 1948 Ireland would now have 20 Olympic boxing medals.
Unfortunately for the Irish boxing – and numerous other semi-finalists from other nations – the rule change arrived too late for our semi-finalists at the 1924, 1928, 1932 and 1948 Games.