UCD at the Olympics and Paralympics

Image Credit: Pixabay licence: YazanMRihan

Ronán Daly recounts UCD’s success at the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

The delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympic games were a joy to watch unfold with Team Ireland winning multiple gold medals for the first time since Michelle Smith’s 3 Gold medals at Atlanta 1996. Not only was it a successful summer for team Ireland the Tokyo Olympics also saw the largest ever cohort of UCD alumni and current students compete with 20 athletes representing Ireland in Japan. 

In the last two Olympic games, Ireland has seen fantastic success in Rowing. This success has been credited to UCD alumni in each of the 3 medals won by Irish Rowers at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. Gary and Paul O’Donovan stole the hearts of the nation with their interview following their silver medal in the men’s lightweight double sculls in Rio. Paul, who graduated from UCD in 2017, went one better at Tokyo, as he and Fintan McCarthy took the gold in the same event. UCD’s rowing success didn’t stop there as another UCD graduate, Eimear Lambe was a member of the Women’s Coxless four who took home the bronze medal. 

While the rowers may have been the only members of team UCD to come home with a medal, it was still a successful summer for the rest of the UCD cohort. UCD was most well represented within the women’s hockey team. 8 of the 16-woman squad and reserve panel were either current UCD students or alumni. Former students Katie Mullan and Anna O’Flanagan were picked as the Captain and Vice-Captain of the team, while other alumni in the squad included Chloe Watkins, Deirdre Duke and Elena Tice. Current students Hannah McLoughlin and Sarah McCauley also made the squad while Michelle Carey travelled as a reserve. While they failed to make it out of the groups, they were part of the first Irish women’s team to qualify for the Olympics. After winning 2-0 in the opening game against South Africa, they were defeated in their remaining four games, however both Tice and McLoughlin scored in a 4-2 defeat to Germany. 

“Not only was it a successful summer for team Ireland the Tokyo Olympics also saw the largest ever cohort of UCD alumni and current students compete with 20 athletes representing Ireland in Japan”

Another four alumni represented the Irish men at the Rugby 7s in Tokyo, like the women’s hockey team they were the first Irish team to qualify for the men’s 7s and they were also captained by a former UCD student, Billy Dardis. The team also consisted of Adam Leavy, Gavin Mullin and Harry McNulty making up the UCD contingent. Unfortunately, Ireland failed to progress to the quarter finals, finishing behind South Africa and the USA in their group. They did however pick up a 12-7 win against Kenya in their final group game and Gavin Mullin finished as Ireland’s top points scorer with 3 tries and 15 points as they eventually lost the 9th-10th place playoff to Kenya. A respectable 10th place finish in their first Olympic games. 

Athletics also had a number of UCD representatives. Current Student Sarah Healy competed in the women’s 1500m, narrowly missing out on a semi-final run, Finishing 11th in her heat. Ciara Mageean also competed in the 1500m, finishing 10th in her heat. Mark English, who set an Irish record in the 800m to qualify for the Olympics finished 4th in his heat. It was a case of so close yet so far for UCD athletes in the athletics however, yet all four representatives, including Sarah Lavin who competed in the women’s 100m Hurdles, can be proud of their efforts on the track. 

In boxing, 2019 European middleweight champion Aoife O’Rourke was defeated in her last 16 bout against eventual silver medallist Li Qian. Swimmer Darragh Greene competed in the men’s 100m and 200m breaststroke finishing 4th and 7th in his heats. Fintan Ryan was a traveling reserve for the Irish track cycling team and Shane Lowry rounds off the list of UCD representatives at the Tokyo Olympics as he finished in a tie for 22nd in the golf finishing -10.

“This success has been credited to UCD alumni in each of the 3 medals won by Irish Rowers at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics”

A year that saw team Ireland have its largest number of athletes at the Olympics saw team UCD also have its largest cohort, helping take home 2 of the 4 medals Ireland won at this year’s Olympic games. But it wasn’t just at the Olympics that UCD alumni represented their country so well, as another 3 athletes were flying the green white and gold at the subsequent Paralympics.

Colin Judge took part in the Men’s table tennis single class 3. Despite losing his first match against China’s Zhao Ping Judge defeated Brazil’s Welder Knaf to qualify from his group, ultimately losing to Russia’s Vladimir Toporkov in the round of 16. Patrick Flanagan represented Ireland in the swimming, competing in the men’s 100m backstroke and 400m freestyle in the S6 category. Flanagan finished 5th in his heat for the backstroke and 7th in his heat for the freestyle. Last but not least of the athletes flying the flag for UCD in Tokyo this summer was Kerrie Leonard who competed in the Women’s open class for Archery. Leonard scored her season best 657 in her ranking and defeated India’s Jyoti Jyoti in the round of 16 before being defeated by Russia’s Stepanida Artakhinova in the last 8. A brilliant showing in her first Paralympics. 

Not only was it UCD’s largest cohort of athletes at the Olympics, the 2020 (2021) Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics were also hugely successful for those flying the flag for both Ireland and UCD. Of course, the medals won by Paul O’Donovan and Eimear Lambe in rowing will be the achievements most celebrated for Irish athletes, however every athlete that represented Ireland can hold their heads high. The men’s rugby 7s and women’s hockey were both captained by UCD alumni as they represented Ireland in their respective sports for the first time at the Olympics. Those who represented Ireland on the track only narrowly missed on qualifying from their heats and the Paralympians all gave a good account of themselves in what has been another successful games for team Ireland.

It has been a superb summer for team Ireland, taking home four medals in the Olympics and seven medals in the Paralympics. Success that UCD alumni have played a huge role in helping to achieve and here’s hoping that Paris in three years time is just as successful for the students on team Ireland.