Tuesday 19 September 2017

Irish ringmasters make perfect start in London

John Joe Nevin exchanges punches with Denmark's Dennis Ceylan during their 56kg round of 32 contest in London yesterday. Photo: David Maher
John Joe Nevin exchanges punches with Denmark's Dennis Ceylan during their 56kg round of 32 contest in London yesterday. Photo: David Maher

JOHN O'BRIEN

There were victories for the first two Irish boxers into the ring at the Excel Arena in east London yesterday as bantamweight John Joe Nevin and middleweight Darren O'Neill kept their Olympic flames burning after posting comfortable victories over their respective opponents to ease themselves into the last 16.

With the Olympics beginning in earnest, it was inevitably to the boxing arena that we looked for the most promising Irish stories.

"It's a great show, I'd love this every day," said a clearly ecstatic O'Neill, after overcoming the challenge of Muldeen Akanjii of Nigeria 15-6. "When I got here, I was walking down the tunnel thinking, 'Bloody hell, is this real?' There were so many Irish supporters there. They are the best supporters in the world."

In a day somewhat clouded by breaking news that an Irish athlete was alleged to have been involved in an illegal gambling incident and Denis Lynch's ongoing appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to be reinstated on the showjumping team, the other bright light came on the water in Eton when Sanita Purspure claimed third place in her heat in the single sculls to ensure her Games didn't end at her first attempt.

Purspure, Latvian-born but long since a resident in Ireland, took third in a time of seven minutes 49.35 seconds, well clear of the fourth-placed rower and guaranteed herself a place in Tuesday's quarter-final with a little to spare.

There was no other joy for Irish competitors although Lisa Kearney, Ireland's first ever female judo representative, marked her first Olympics with an admirable performance, only losing to China's Wu Shugen, ranked in the world's top 10, on a "golden score", the judo equivalent of extra-time, after the five-minute fight finished in a tie. "I'm disappointed to have lost the fight and particularly in extra-time," she said, "because it was such a close contest.

"But it's an Olympic Games and you can't get a higher standard than this. It was a really good experience and it will stand me in good stead in the future."

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