Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlan secure Olympic places

Belfast fighters’ success in World Series of Boxing in Venezuela sees them set for Rio

Paddy Barnes tells the story of how the kids in Belfast began calling him Paddy Bronze after London 2012. They may set high standards in the Ardoyne, where Barnes come from, but there also are few athletes in the country who feel that third is not enough when it comes to the Olympic Games.

Barnes is one, Michael Conlan the other.

The Irish light flyweight will get that chance to change the colour as he and his west Belfast bantamweight compadre, Conlan, became the first Irish boxers to qualify for Rio 2016.

Both London Olympic medalists won their World Series of Boxing (WSB) fights in Venezuela in the early hours of Sunday morning to secure their passage.


They join the Irish three-day eventing team (Sarah Ennis, Joseph Murphy, Aoife Clark, Sam Watson) and three sailing boats, Laser radial (Annalise Murphy), single handed (James Espey) and the 49er (Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern).

Rob Heffernan also achieved the time required this year following a fourth-place finish in the 50km walking event at the IAAF Race Walking Challenge meeting in Slovakia.

The Corkman clocked a time of 3:48:44, while Brendan Boyce, who finished fifth in a time of 3:48.55, also secured the qualification mark for the Rio Games.

Holding position

Other athletes are in a holding position and are likely to qualify unless dramatic slumps in form and ranking hit them over the next year or so.

Rory McIlroy, the world number one golfer, Stephanie Meadow at 96 in the LPGA rankings and showjumper Bertram Allen, who is ranked 10th in the Longines world rankings are strongly placed.

Not only is Barnes the first boxer to win medals at successive Olympic Games but he will become the first Irish boxer since the State was founded to compete in three Olympics.

Heffernan’s qualification time earlier this year gives him a dizzying record of entry into his fifth successive Olympic Games.

Sunday’s win was Barnes seventh straight in the WSB, the professional event owned and run by the governing body of what used to be amateur boxing, the AIBA. While he had already proven himself to be the outstanding light flyweight in the competition, his qualification was not without speed bumps.

Uzbekistan’s Hansanboy Dusmatov had overtaken Barnes in the race for Rio on Friday, when he won his bout in Kiev to move three points ahead on the league table.

The 28-year-old from Belfast had to beat the home boxer Finol Rivas, which he did narrowly.

Although Barnes had his opponent down in the first round, it came down to on a split decision (49-45, 47-48, 49-45).

Barnes took to Twitter after the fight and was typically defiant.

“RIO BOUND! I’m 28 I’ll do what I want,” he said. And he will.

Conlan’s passage was even more fraught as he relied on Puerto Rico’s Hector Garcia beating favourite Magomed Gurbanov as well as having to win himself.

Both sides of the story fell into place with Garcia putting Gurbanov on the floor before winning a surprise unanimous decision.

Perfect weekend

Conlan, also a bronze medallist at London 2012, easily earned his unanimous victory (49-46, 49-46, 49-46) over Jose Diaz and climbed to second in his division to qualify. Two at bantamweight and just one in Barnes’s lighter weight category go through. It was the perfect weekend for both boxers.

Like Barnes, Conlan also took to social media.

“Serious atmosphere @paddyb_ireland and myself boxed in last night, to come away with the win and qualifications in an environment like this is unbelievable! Thanks everyone wishing us well done and goodlucks!!,” said Conlan.

But it’s not the end of the process for others in the Irish camp.

In the entirely revised system of Olympic qualification, boxers can now earn a route to Rio via the WSB and the APB, another professional league where third-ranked light heavyweight Joe Ward and fifth-ranked lightweight David Oliver Joyce are competing.

The traditional amateur way, of reaching or winning the World Amateur Boxing Championships is also still open to Irish boxers, as well as through an Olympic qualification event, which has yet to be scheduled but will take place next year.

Rio 2016: Qualifiers so far

Three Day Eventing: (Sarah Ennis, Joseph Murphy, Aoife Clark, Sam Watson)

Sailing: Laser radial (Annalise Murphy), Single Handed (James Espey), 49er (Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern).

Athletics: Rob Heffernan, Brendan Boyce 50km Walking Event, Martin Fagan (marathon)

Qualified by current ranking

Golf: Rory McIlroy ranked one, Stephanie Meadow ranked 96.

Showjumping: Bertram Allen, ranked 10th.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times