MICHAEL CARRUTH ended Ireland’s long wait for Olympic boxing gold on August 8, 1992 in Barcelona.
Ireland had entered the Olympics independently for the first time at Paris 1924, and Cork’s Michael ‘Mossy’ Doyle was the first Irish boxer to answer and opening bell versus Jackie Fields of the USA.
Fields, real name Jacob Finkelstein, beat the Leesider after a fierce struggle and went on to become the youngest ever Olympic champion. The Chicago-born feather has been inducted into the Jewish Boxing Hall of Fame and International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Fields was told by his coach to change his name because Finkelstein didn’t sound tough enough for a boxer. The American was 16 when he topped the 57kg podium in Paris.
Scotland’s Tancy Lee, a former pro champion, was Ireland’s head coach at Paris 1924. Most of the squad, which included Cork’s Willie ‘Boy’ Murphy and James Kelleher, were army men and Lee said it was his job to teach men “to fight without bullets.”
Almost 70 years after Ireland made its debut as an Olympic boxing nation, Carruth got his shot at the title on the same day his Irish team-mate, Wayne McCullough, was trading leather for gold.
Underdogs Ireland were slated to meet powerhouses Cuba in a double-header in the bantamweight and welterweight finals. Both men brought Ireland to a standstill. It finished honours even.
Computer scoring — because of the fallout from the Roy Jones versus Park Si-hun controversial decision at the previous Olympics which featured Cork’s Kieran Joyce — was used for the first time in the Catalan capital.
The new system reflected the dominance of Belfast-born McCullough, a gold medal winner for Northern Ireland at the 1990 Commonwealth Games. He cruised through his opening three bouts, hammering Fredrick Mutewata of Uganda, who must have been sick of the sight of the Ulster man at this stage as he had lost to him at the 1988 Olympics, Ahmed Ghimin of Iraq and Mohammed Sabo of Nigeria on convincing 28-7, 10-2 and 31-13 verdicts.
The win over Sabo was for a place in the semi-finals and at least a bronze medal. McCullough, later to be nicknamed The Pocket Rocket, met Li Gwang-Sik of Korea in the last-four and booked his ticket into the 54kg decider with a 21-16 victory following a slug-fest with the North Korean.
In the corresponding semi-final, Cuba’s Joel El Cipillo (The Brush) Casamayor stopped Mohammed Achik (Morocco) in the first round The stage was set for a compelling bantamweight duel, but the Guantanamo-born southpaw got the decision, a 16-8 verdict, at the Pavelló Club Joventut de Badalona venue, despite a storming final round from the Irish champion.
McCullough was bravely fighting through the pain barrier after picking up a severe facial injury after being on the receiving end of a thudding right from El Cipillo in the second round. Casamayor, according to reports, defected from Cuba on the eve of the 1996 games in Atlanta to turn professional and won a World pro title, as did McCullough after he switched codes.
Meanwhile, Carruth was limbering up in the dressing room for his welterweight clash with Juan Hernandez. The Dublin southpaw, the captain of the Irish team in 1992, beat Maselino Tuifao 11-2 in his opening bout to set up a last-16 duel with a familiar foe in the quarter-finals; Andreas Otto, who was now boxing for a unified Germany.
Three years before their Barcelona clash, Otto, then boxing for East Germany, had beaten Carruth 18-1 in the light-welterweight semi-finals of the 5th AIBA World Championships in Moscow, an outrageous verdict that in no way reflected Carruth’s performance, or, for that matter, Otto’s implied dominance.
However, the Irish skipper exacted sweet revenge in the rematch, the Drimnagh BC lefty forcing Otto into a standing count in the first en route to a 35-22 decision and at least a bronze medal.
Next up was Arkon Chenglai in the semi-finals. He was dispatched on a score of 11-4, with Carruth recalling that he got the impression that the Thai didn’t fancy meeting Hernandez in the final and seemed happy enough with bronze.
Ireland had another boxer through to the gold medal dust-ups, but the bookies were giving Carruth as much chance as a of goldfish thrown into a bathtub with a barracuda.
However, the Dubliner had other ideas and edged a tactical opening frame 4-3. Carruth dropped points after receiving a public warning for holding in the second and trudged back to his corner expecting to be in arrears but the scores were locked at 8-8. It was to be decided in the final frame. Hernandez’s corner had given their man, a medallist at the previous Olympics, an earful during the interval and he came out with all guns blazing.
However, Carruth was still drawing him down his southpaw alley and was still picking up precious points on the counter. Over in his corner, his father and coach, Austin, and Ireland’s Cuban coach, Nicholas Cruz, were screaming out instructions.
After the final bell, the signals coming from unofficial sources at ringside were indicating Carruth had it by a three-point margin, but the official score had yet to be announced. The tension was palpable, and the MC rambling on in Spanish wasn’t exactly conducive for anyone (Irish) of a nervous disposition. Finally, it was announced that Carruth had won 13-10 and the venue erupted.
Ireland’s long wait for a gold medal in boxing was over, and the gap between Ronnie Delaney’s gold medal run in the 1,500m at the 1956 Games in Melbourne had been bridged.
Paul Douglas also came close to securing a medal at the Barcelona Games. Wins against John Peterson and Alexei Tchoudinov saw the Holy Family BC heavyweight progress to the quarter-finals, but Holland’s Arnold Vanderlijde beat him in the last eight.
Vanderlijde dropped a decision to Cuba’s legendary Felix Savon, who many consider the greatest ever amateur boxer, in his next fight.
Paul Griffin had secured a European gold in the featherweight class in Gothenburg in 1991 — Paddy Barnes bridged that 19-year gap in Moscow in 2010 — but the Dubliner, also of the Drimnagh BC, went out to Steven Chubgu of Zambia.
Paul Buttimer, the second Sunnyside BC boxer to appear at the Olympics after Kieran Joyce, also exited in the preliminaries.
Boxing at flyweight, Buttimer lost to Nigeria’s Moses Malagu, who lost to eventual silver medallist, Raul Gonzalez of Cuba, in the next round.
Mike Tyson’s conqueror Kevin McBride fell at the first hurdle. The Smithboro BC super–heavyweight was on the wrong end of a points reversal Peter Hrivnak.
Thirteen years after that defeat, McBride caused a sensation after stopping Mike Tyson in Washington. Iron Mike announced his retirement after that loss.
Cuba took home seven gold medals from the 12 weight categories in Barcelona but they didn’t, courtesy of Carruth, take the welterweight gold back to Havana. That, along with Wayne McCullough’s silver, was on its way back to Ireland.
Cuba’s dominance did, however, ensure the 1992 Irish squad finished in fourth position in the medals table, the highest ever finish for an Irish team at the boxing event at the Olympic Games. Cuba claimed seven of the 12 golds, Germany two, Ireland, North Korea and USA one apiece. But McCullough’s silver medal, combined with Carruth’s gold, meant that Ireland finished fourth ahead of North Korea. The top five were Cuba, Germany, USA, Ireland and North Korea.
Sean Horkan was Irish team manager at Barcelona 1992 where word entered the boxing lexicon; the dreaded ‘countback’, a scoring system within a scoring system to separate boxes after a draw.
Carruth said after his win that he had to keep pinching himself and looking at the gold medal to see if it was real.
He’s now an Irish coach and trainer at the Drimnagh BC and believes when you reach the top you have a moral obligation to pass the ladder back down. “My next aim is to produce an Olympic champion. I’m going to do it. The love of boxing will never die in this country,” he said.
Flyweight: Paul Buttimer (Sunnyside, Cork) Lost to Moses Malagu (Nigeria) 8-12 Bantamweight: Wayne McCullough (Albert Foundry, Belfast) – Silver Beat Frederick Muteweta (Uganda) 28-7 Beat Ahmed Ghmim Abbood (Iraq) 10-2 Beat Mohammed Sabo (Nigeria) 31-13 Beat Gwang-Sik (North Korea) 21-16 Final Lost to Joel Casamayor (Cuba) 8-16 Featherweight: Paul Griffin (Drimnagh, Dublin) Lost to Steven Chubgu (Zambia) TKOI2 Welterweight: Michael Carruth (Drimnagh, Dublin) – Gold Beat Maselino Tuifao (Western Samoa) 11-2 Beat Andreas Otto (Germany) 35-22 Beat Arkom Chenglai (Thailand) 11-4 Final Beat Juan Hernandez (Cuba) 13-10 Heavyweight: Paul Douglas (Holy Family, Belfast) Beat John Pettersson (Sweden) 8-1 Beat Alexei Tchoudinov (CIS) 15-9 Lost to Arnold Vanderlijde (Holland) TKOI1 Super-heavyweight: Kevin McBride (Smithboro, Monaghan) Lost to Peter Hrivnak (Czechoslovakia) 1-21