Friday 2 December 2016

How morality brigade kept Irish women off athletics track and out of the Olympics

Diarmuid Bolger

Published 04/08/2016 | 02:30

'It was 2000 before Sonia O'Sullivan became our first female track athlete to win an Olympic medal' Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
'It was 2000 before Sonia O'Sullivan became our first female track athlete to win an Olympic medal' Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Over the coming weeks, Irish sports fans will be glued to their televisions every time an Irish athlete competes at the Rio Olympics, and the nation will come to a halt if anyone comes within sight of Olympic gold. We saw it four years ago when Katie Taylor became a national treasure. One can easily imagine the roars of excitement if Taylor repeats this feat or if another female athlete like Fionnuala McCormack runs the race of their lives.

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It's less easy to imagine the roars of moral outrage that would have greeted the sight of any Irish female athlete daring to step onto an Olympic track - or any track where male athletes were also present - during the 1930s and 1940s.

Taylor wasn't the first Irishwoman to win an Olympic medal in London, but our previous medal winner there, Letitia Marion Hamilton, won bronze back in 1948 in the genteel category of landscape oil painting. It wasn't until 1956 that an Irish female athlete, Maeve Kyle, dared to compete at the Olympics, and some newspaper letter writers at the time were highly critical of her.

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