Tokyo 2020 Day 9: Ireland’s boxers left to rue what might have been

Walsh forced to withdraw as Walker misses out on medal; McIlroy falls short in play-off

Ireland’s Kurt Walker is consoled by former coach Billy Walsh after his quarter-final defeat in Tokyo. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Ireland’s Kurt Walker is consoled by former coach Billy Walsh after his quarter-final defeat in Tokyo. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 
  • Boxing: Kurt Walker beaten 3-2 by Duke Ragan; Aidan Walsh forced to withdraw.
  • Golf: Rory McIlroy misses out on bronze in seven-way play-off; Xander Schauffele takes gold.
  • Athletics: Michelle Finn and Eilish Flanagan miss out in steeplechase; Thomas Barr misses out on final.
  • Gymnastics: Rhys McClenaghan finishes seventh in the pommel horse final after an early mistake.
  • Equestrian: A mixed morning for Ireland’s eventing team.

Boxing

Every Olympic boxing bout ends with mixed emotions, and Kurt Walker could sense them all around him too after narrowly losing his featherweight quarter-final to the American Duke Ragan at the Kokugikan Arena on Sunday morning.

It was close beyond near reason, and Walker would have won it had one more of the five judges awarded him the last round, as four of them did.

It followed the news earlier on Sunday morning here in Tokyo that Aidan Walsh had been forced to withdraw from his welterweight semi-final, due to the ankle injury sustained while jumping for joy after his quarter-final win over Merven Clair of Mauritius on Friday, which had guaranteed him a bronze medal.

With the winner of the Walker-Ragan fight also guaranteed a bronze medal, there was tension in the air already - pressed tighter by the fact the American was coached in his corner by Billy Walsh, the former head coach of Irish boxing.

It ended on a split decision, in truth Ragan displaying superior speed and agility in the first round to put himself in a winning position. Walker fought back gallantly, awarded the second round by three of the five judges, and it was punch for punch from there until the end, Walker winning the last round too, only for that first round to prove decisive.

After the Olympics were postponed last year, Ragan briefly returned to the professional ranks - now allowed under revised Olympic rules - only to return to US Boxing just a few weeks ago, Walsh playing his part in coaxing him back into the amateur arena. It clearly made for mixed emotions for Walsh too, his former coaching partner Zaur Antia, now head coach of Irish boxing.

Walker had also been first brought into the Irish boxing set up by Walsh, and all those mixed emotions were evident in the mixed zone afterwards, Walsh in the opposite corner from an Irish boxer for the first time at the Olympics.

It was clear from the first three-minute round Walker had a serious fight on his hands, Ragan displaying vastly superior speed and boxing skill, awarded the round by all five judges.

Kurt Walker was narrowly beaten by America’s Duke Fagan in Tokyo. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Kurt Walker was narrowly beaten by America’s Duke Fagan in Tokyo. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

“I’m devastated but that’s boxing. 3-2, that’s the way it goes,” said the Lisburn figher. “I’ve done well in this tournament and I’m proud of myself,” said Walker, making light of the fact Ragan had just returned from the pro ranks, and qualified for Tokyo on ranking after the US Boxing trials were cancelled in the face of Covid-19.

“I knew he was super fast so I wanted to see how much of his jab would get through but it didn’t. I knew I would be able to push the second and third but it was just a bit too late.

“But thought I was better in the second and third but it was so close. He took the first, I know he took the first. No regrets. I wasn’t even supposed to be here a year ago. To come and dominate and show everyone back home how good I am. I’m proud. The first round was just a chess game and he was better. It was more him dragging me down, pulling but that’s smart stuff. He’s smart, he’s a professional, he knows what to do, he knows how to tidy up.”

Asked about professionals being allowed skip back into the amateur ranks as desired, Walker said: “That’s the rules. It’s an amateur game but that’s the rules. I’ve beaten pros before so I can’t complain about being beaten by a pro.”

Walsh meanwhile was due to fight in Sunday’s semi-final against Pat McCormack of Britain, but decided against appearing for his pre-fight medical on Sunday morning, the realisation being he was simply in no condition to fight, scans revealing he has sustained ankle ligament injury in that victory jump.

Tokyo 2020

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The Belfast boxer will still bring home a bronze medal, becoming the 16th Irish boxer to bring home a medal from the Olympics. Still there was some sense of mixed emotions there too, naturally, given a victory over McCormack would have assured him of silver at least. “What Aidan did this week is an incredible achievement,” said Bernard Dunne, Irish boxing high performance manager. “His performance throughout the tournament has been outstanding. And it is great to see him write his name in the annals of Irish sport.

“Just over two years ago we selected Aidan for his first major championship, and over the past few months that potential that we had identified has grown and developed into a world class performance, that reflects greatly on the level of preparation he has put in ahead of these Games.”

Golf

Rory McIlroy missed out on bronze after a seven-way play-off for an Olympic medal, after America’s Xander Schauffele took the gold in Tokyo.

McIlroy narrowly missed a birdie putt on the 18th as he signed for a final round of 67, leaving him on 15 under par along with six others - including US Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and British Open winner Collin Morikawa.

He made it to the third play-off hole, but a missed birdie putt brought an end to his challenge. A hole later CT Pan holed his par putt to take bronze ahead of Morikawa, after the American saw his approach plug in a bunker.

Aferwards, McIlroy said: “I never tried so hard in my life to finish third … I gave it my all out there today.”

Rory McIlroy was still pushing for a medal on Sunday morning. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Rory McIlroy was still pushing for a medal on Sunday morning. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Earlier Schauffele held his nerve to post a final round of 67 and win by one at Kasumigaseki Country Club, keeping his cool despite dropping a shot on the par five 14th after an errant tee shot.

Rory Sabbatini shot an Olympic record 61 to secure the silver medal for Slovakia, however Shane Lowry finished in a share of 22nd place after he signed for a level par final round of 71.

The play-off consisted of a sudden death knockout played across the 11th, 18th and 10th holes.

Johnny Watterson’s full report from Tokyo is available here.

Athletics

Earlier down at the Olympic Stadium, Michelle Finn and Eilish Flanagan were both in action in the heats of the women’s 3,000 metres steeplechase, both coming up short in their bid to advance to the final.

In the now expected sweltering conditions, even for 10 0’clock in the morning, it made for a properly testing run over the barriers and the seven and a half laps.

In the first heat, Finn ran a strong race and kept herself close to the front for several laps, before ending up finishes ninth in a time 9:36.26, down on her best time of 9:29.25.

Eilish Flanagan in action during the 3,000m steeplechase at the Olympic Stadium. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Eilish Flanagan in action during the 3,000m steeplechase at the Olympic Stadium. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

There was some consolation for Flanagan, who although down in 12th in her heat, ran a new personal best 9:34.86, beating her previous mark by almost six seconds.

“I knew I was capable of running a personal best but it was tough with the heat. To come away with a decent PB I’m happy,” said Flanagan. “It’s definitely still surreal, I can’t really comprehend I’m here and have competed at the Olympics. I’m already looking forward to the next.”

Finn meanwhile admitted the conditions were rough: “I I didn’t go when I needed to go. I don’t know why I’m not sadder, I 100 percent think I can run at least 10 seconds faster and I think I could do that tomorrow. There’s frustration, I think I’m taking this one better than usual.”

Later in the day, Thomas Barr finished fourth in his 400m hurdle semi-final, which wasn't enough to earn him a place in the final.

Gymnastics

Rhys McClenaghan had to settle for seventh after he made an early mistake in the pommel horse final. Britain's Max Whitlock took the gold.

Equestrian

It was a mixed day for Ireland’s eventing team after Sunday’s Cross Country performances. They currently sit in eighth place heading into Monday’s final round of show jumping.

The pick of the Irish riders was Austin O’Connor with Colorado Blue, who was one of only seven competitors to make a clear round.

Sam Watson and Flamenco in action on Sunday. Photograph: Libby Law/Inpho
Sam Watson and Flamenco in action on Sunday. Photograph: Libby Law/Inpho

Afterwards, he said: “I am delighted with my horse’s performance, the horse was great. He seems to have recovered really well. He is a class horse. We will all enjoy the next phase now. We will get the horse recovered and myself recovered and hopefully come out and finish on a good note.”

Sam Watson and Sarah Ennis both picked up faults however, with Ennis experiencing steering difficulties with her mount Horseware Woodcourt Garrison around the midway point of the course.

Ennis said: “I felt as we came to the drop and down to the skinny, where he ran out, he got really hard on my right rein and he ran down that hill. For love nor money I couldn’t turn him.

“It is really unfortunate. I was very lucky to get him home. He felt very empty and heavy. I say he will bounce back, he is a tough one and will come back fighting tomorrow. He is fairly hardy but the humidity got to him today.”

The equestrian action continues on Monday.

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