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The forgotten drama of the Munich Olympics: How an Irish cyclist's dream was left in tatters


Cyclist Noel Teggart from Banbridge, Co Down

Cyclist Noel Teggart from Banbridge, Co Down

Cyclist Noel Teggart from Banbridge, Co Down

The remarkable story of how a bitter divide in Irish cycling derailed a Co Down man's dream of winning an Olympic medal at the 1972 Munich Games will be aired tomorrow.

Banbridge native Noel Teggart was the only Northern Ireland representative on the official Irish Olympic cycling team in Germany that year and was in the form of his life.

However, the sport on the island of Ireland was divided. On one side were the two internationally recognised bodies north and south of the border, and on the other was the National Cycling Association (NCA) - a group that wanted an all-Ireland organisation.

The RTE Radio 1 documentary - entitled Green and Gold - speaks to some of the riders on both sides of the divide, as well as Lady Mary Peters, who won a gold medal for Great Britain in Munich before receiving a death threat, and Noel's grandson Matthew, now an Irish international cyclist himself.

The drama of the 1972 cycling road race was played out against the backdrop of the Troubles and the Munich massacre, where Israeli Olympians were taken hostage and killed by Palestinian terrorist group Black September.

Both the Troubles and the Munich massacre feature heavily in the 40 minute documentary.

Lady Mary said 1972 had been the worst year of the Troubles, with 500 people killed in terrorist attacks.

"I didn't have a track to train on because the university track was full of potholes," she recalled in the documentary. "It wasn't easy. I didn't have a car. I used to get two buses. One into the city centre and one out to the training track.

"I just did it, even though bombs were sometimes going off as you were travelling on the bus and I would be carrying my four kilo shot and my starting blocks. You just did it and I wanted to win so much."

With audio from interviews carried out at the time - as well as a brief recording of sports commentator Jackie Fullerton - the documentary is sure to appeal not just to cycling enthusiasts but all Olympic fans.

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Since 1947 the NCA had been barred from international competition and the group had protested at the 1955 World Championships and the 1956 Olympics. But in 1972 they took the bold step of secretly joining the race itself.

NCA cyclist John Mangan actually led the race for a period but was involved in a scuffle with the late Noel Teggart during the event. Kerry man John claimed that Noel had said: "There's a lot of southern b******s around this morning" - but that was flatly rejected by Noel's teammate Kieron McQuaid.

"As we came near the top of the hill on the next lap, I saw Teggart being pushed from behind into the crowd," Kieron recalled in the documentary.

"All of a sudden I passed the two of them and my first thought was, 'Do I stop and go back and help him?'

"Noel Teggart was a truck driver and I was only a 21-year-old student, he was well able to handle himself. I thought there was no point in going back because he was well able to handle himself so I just kept going.

"I didn't see him again until after we finished and needless to say he was not in good shape, he was disconsolate and he was heartbroken."

Following the controversy at Munich, Irish cycling transformed into an all-Ireland power-sharing body - something championed by Noel after he and John made their peace.

An RTE interview carried out just after the Olympic road race with an unnamed spokesperson from the NCA team, who was from Northern Ireland, revealed why they protested.

"We were protesting against Britain's interference in Irish affairs to the extent that the NCA is not internationally recognised," the man said.

Producers David Coughlan and Donal O'Herlihy interviewed Noel's grandson Matthew (24), as well as his father Neil Teggart as part of the documentary.

"It was really [my grandfather] who was the turning point in the whole divide north and south because of what happened to him at the Olympics so now anyone cycling in Ireland, north or south, you ride for Ireland," Matthew said.

Green and Gold will air on RTE Radio 1 tomorrow at 1pm.

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