O'Connor returns to podium glory after heartbreak in Athens
IT WAS the most dramatic comeback in Irish Olympic history, and the family of showjumper Cian O'Connor couldn't hide their joy after he took home a bronze.
His model sister Pippa led celebrations yesterday and kept a running commentary on Twitter as her brother battled it out in the showjumping final.
"So unbelievably proud of my brother. Winning a medal in the Olympics! Nerves of steel," she gushed following her brother's success.
She said that she had made a birthday wish that he would get through to the finals and then he went on to win a medal.
Mr O'Connor said last night: "It's funny, my sister Pippa texted me this morning and said she had a dream I'd got in and won a medal.
"So dreams can come true."
But as he stood on the podium, Mr O'Connor would have been aware that he almost didn't get the chance to compete.
Twice it looked as if his Olympic bid was doomed before fate intervened.
He only got into the squad after Horse Sport Ireland dramatically withdrew another rider, Denis Lynch's nomination, when his horse Latinus failed a hypersensitivity test on its legs. And yesterday he scraped into the final as first reserve when Swedish rider Rolf-Goran Bengtsson's horse Casall failed a veterinary test.
It was somehow apt that Mr O'Connor's route to Olympic glory was filled with as many ups and downs as a typical run on the showjumping course.
He was previously awarded a gold medal for showjumping at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but he was forced to hand back the medal after his horse Waterford Crystal failed a drugs test.
He was banned from competition for three months. However, Mr O'Connor has always maintained his innocence and the FEI has never made a finding of fault against him.
Yesterday, he returned to the winners' podium as Irish fans proudly held the tricolour aloft.
Riding Blue Loyd 12, he gave it everything, clocking a faster time than Dutch rival Gerco Schroder in the jump-off for the silver, but he clipped a fence and was placed third.
Fionnuala Tighe, from Dublin but now living in Surrey, said at the venue in London: "It's been amazing.
"I hope this means more money will go into equestrianism in Ireland because the recession is taking its toll on the whole industry."
In the estate where Mr O'Connor lives outside Rathoath, Co Meath, his neighbours were just as overjoyed about the success of the rider.
"He's always been down to earth and stuck to his roots. He's done so much for the community and we're delighted for him," neighbour Pearl Hyland said.
"He keeps his training in Ireland and he still has his stables up the road.
"I was watching the final with my two girls and we were on the edge of the seat. He was unfortunate with all that stuff at the last Games and he really deserved it this time," she added.
Junior Sports Minister Michael Ring, who was at the final for the jump-off, said Mr O'Connor's medal was a superb achievement.
"Winning an Olympic medal is a proud day for Cian and his family and for Ireland," he said.
And President Michael D Higgins described Mr O'Connor's win as a great result for Irish showjumping.
"He showed great skill and determination all week and thoroughly deserves this bronze medal," said Mr Higgins.