Irish boxing took home its greatest ever haul of Olympic medals – a haul which was later, as in over half a century later, matched at London 2012 and surpassed in terms of the quality of the medals (one gold, one silver and two bronze) – from the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne – but once again Ireland was denied gold following a controversial split decision.
Fred Tiedt, John Caldwell, Freddie and Tony Byrne claimed one silver and three bronze medals Down Under.
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. Even the 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, a great stalwart of the Trinity College Boxing Club, had to settle for silver.
Meanwhile, Belfast’s Freddie Gilroy found himself under the spotlight because of politics.
The 1956 Games took place amid the backdrop of the Soviet Union’s invasion of 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. He then 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 the World bantamweight title in London.
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 in his semi-final.
On the same day, December 1st, 1956, 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, who was living in Australia, 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 1956 Games marked the first Olympic in which Ireland won more bouts (9) than it lost (6)
(Image, Fred Tiedt)
Flyweight: Johnny 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