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Irish Olympic exiles put boot into tug-of-war rivals

That song by Nancy Sinatra, wouldn't it be an excellent choice as an anthem for tug-of-war? -- 'These boots are made for walking, and that's just what they'll do, one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.'

Not that controversies and objections and disagreements about steel cleats, spikes, studs and certain kinds of heels are only current subjects for discourse. Far from it.

Did you know that tug-of-war was once an Olympic sport, but has now joined that noble pantheon of 'discontinued sports', accompanying other august pastimes such as croquet, cricket and jeu de paume.

Cricket was played once, in the Paris Games in 1900, with England beating France fairly comfortably. An English report of the cricket match said: "We found the French temperament is too excitable to enjoy the game and no Frenchman can be persuaded to play more than once."

Croquet and jeu de paume -- or real tennis as it's known today -- also made their appearance just that once, but tug-of-war graced the Olympic scene on six occasions from 1900 in Paris up to Antwerp in 1920.

In that first 1900 competition, a combined Sweden and Denmark team beat the French in the final.

The Americans, who would probably have won, withdrew because three of their six-man team were otherwise engaged in the hammer final -- claiming gold, silver and bronze.

The gold went to John Flanagan, originally from Kilbreedy, Co Limerick, a New York policeman, and was the first of his three Olympic titles.

The silver medallist was an All-American footballer from the University of Pennsylvania, Tuxton Hare, and the bronze went to Josiah McCracken, who also took silver in the shot due to his best throw in the qualifying round -- he refused to take part in the finals round because it was held on a Sunday.

Three Irishmen won Olympic tug- of-war medals, but they were in the police in Liverpool and London and, thus, competed for Britain.

Edward Barrett from Kerry was on the City of London police team that won gold in London in 1908. That was the event where the American team withdrew because they claimed that their opponents were wearing illegal boots (are you listening Nancy Sinatra?).

The police maintained that they were wearing standard everyday police boots. But the Americans refused to compete and the English team issued a challenge that they would have a pull in their stocking feet. The Americans did not accept.

So, the London police and Barrett got the gold. In second place were the Liverpool police and James Clarke from Bohola in Mayo.

Then in 1912 at the Stockholm Games, Matt Hynes, originally from Galway, was a member of the GB team that gained silver. Hynes' team were, we're told, disqualified for continually sitting down.

So, Irish pulling ropes is not something new.

Irish Independent