Wednesday 18 September 2019

Anniversary of hero Gary's silver medal

30 years since Gary O'Toole won silver in the European Games

Gary's joy at taking silver
Gary's joy at taking silver
Gary O'Toole

Mary Fogarty

This week 30 years ago Bray and Ireland's Gary O'Toole entered the history books winning a silver medal at the European Championships in Bonn, West Germany, in the 200 meters breaststroke final.

At the time, there were no 50 metre pools in Ireland. Despite the disadvantage, O'Toole swam his way into the silver medal position, beaten by a World record equalling time by Britain's Nick Gillingham. In third place was the Hungarian and 1988 Olympic champion Josef Szabo.

Gary's performance saw him become the first Irishman ever to win at this level and put Irish swimming in the headlines. Despite all the improvements and facilities in the intervening years his achievement still stands.

Today, Gary is recognised as a worldwide orthopaedic consultant but despite his fame he will always be remembered as a swimmer because of his worldwide achievements in the sport.

He was also instrumental in exposing abuse in swimming which led to the exposure of three Irish Olympic coaches, a priest who was head of school swimming and a former president of the Leinster branch who murdered his wife and niece in order to try cover up his activity.

Gary went against the hierarchy in swimming and put his own medical career in danger, after a friend confided in him that coach George Gibney had been abusing him. His legacy is that safeguards were introduced in sports as a result of his endeavours.

The Bray man decided to retire from competitive swimming to concentrate on his medical career at the age of 24. He had become disillusioned with the swimming authorities at the time.

Because of the scandals which had been covered up for years, the swimming association had no alternative but to change its name and establish a new identity.

During his swimming career, Gary won every honour in the book including a People of the Year award. In 1991, he became the first Irish athlete to win a gold medal at the World University Games. At civic reception was held in his honour at Bray Town Hall in 2016.

Bray People