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Ireland on track for biggest Olympic team ever

The idea of Ireland winning between four and six medals in Paris this summer is not farfetched

The Olympic Games sits on this summer’s calendar like a Mount Everest of sporting events. A monolith that has moved from Tokyo to Paris in just three years rather than the usual four, it captures emotions like no other event.

With the shorter turnaround comes the great International Olympic Committee conceit and nailed-on pub quiz question. Tokyo 2020, because of Covid, was staged a year later in the summer of 2021 but the name Tokyo 2020 remains. In practical terms that means this year’s Games in Paris have come racing down the track at Irish athletes much quicker than normal.

Despite that those taking careful account of the athletes’ qualification processes across the sports believe that Paris will host the largest Irish team ever to compete at an Olympic Games, with current estimates looking at around 120 athletes.

The games will come to life in July when the opening ceremony takes place on the river Seine in Paris with the usual overblown fanfare. But even now many Irish athletes are still hoping to get their toe in the Olympic door. In athletics that could take them right up to June to meet the required times.


This week an eight-strong team from Irish boxing is billeted in Busto, Italy, preparing for a qualifying event that begins over the weekend. Already five boxers have booked tickets to Paris, including the defending lightweight Olympic champion Kellie Harrington, who hopes to become the first Irish athlete to successfully defend a gold medal. Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy will be hoping to do the same in rowing.

Three team sports are also guaranteed places in Paris for the first time, a men’s and women’s team from Sevens rugby and a male hockey team. With 16 athletes in the travelling hockey squad and 12 in each of the rugby squads the two events alone account for 40 athletes, a significant rump of those that have already booked their tickets to Paris.

Team size may be a crude measure but it illustrates how Ireland has successfully built up its profile in the Olympic Games throughout this century over the 24 years from Sydney 2000 to Paris 2024. During that time, and if the 120 figure holds for Paris, the size of the Irish team will have almost doubled. Ireland sent a team of 64 athletes to Sydney comprising of 40 men and 24 women, who competed across 10 sports.

So far Irish athletes have qualified across at least 11 sports for the summer, with golf not yet included. There will be 120 athletes competing in the Paris golf event, which takes place in Versailles, 60 men and 60 women, the same as Tokyo 2020. Again the final field will not be known until June, with Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow all potential candidates.

On that front things are looking good to boost team numbers, and this week, McIlroy was ranked second in the men’s Olympic Golf Rankings behind first placed Scottie Scheffler, with Lowry in 24th position. Maguire is 22nd in the women’s rankings with Meadow at 35.

The Olympic Federation of Ireland will also be announcing during the Games the 1,000th athlete since an Irish team first participated in an Olympics in 1924. Coincidentally the 1924 games were also held in Paris with two Irish team sports taking part but not in rugby or hockey. A football team and water polo team participated, making up more than half of the Irish athletes.

The good news with the increase in team size is that medals have also come more consistently. Following a Sydney Olympic Games review in January 2001, the High Performance Committee was formed, which led to a more medal-focused professional approach to Olympic sports. The review noted the general disappointment in Ireland’s participation in the Sydney games, when Sonia O’Sullivan was the only athlete to win a medal with a silver in the women’s 5,000m.

Since then 20 medals have been won, with four coming from the coxless four Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe, Fiona Murtagh and Emily Hegarty and four more with rowers Paul O’Donovan, Gary O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy, with Paul winning silver in Rio with his brother and gold in Tokyo with McCarthy.

“If the Olympics were held tomorrow and the rankings were shut down we would have 114 athletes. Tokyo was 116,” says Gavin Noble, a triathlon Olympian from London 2012 and the Irish team chef de mission for Paris. “I’m confident it will be over 120 athletes and the biggest team ever. We are tracking over 120 at the moment.

“In terms of medals I’ve always said that in order to get four medals you need 12 good chances and I think we have 12 good chances. You know if you look at the likes of Kellie Harrington and the rowers and in swimming, who come in as world champions and Olympic medal winners, and Rory in golf . . . if you were a betting man between four and six medals is not preposterous.”

Six medals would equal London 2012, walker Rob Heffernen receiving his bronze four years later after Russian gold medallist Sergey Kirdyapkin was disqualified for doping and the Irish fourth became a third.

With the biggest Irish team ever, six medals is a real possibility.