seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Olympic Medalist Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith, married name Michelle Smith de Bruin, lawyer and retired Irish swimmer who wins four medals at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, is born in Rathcoole, County Dublin on December 16, 1969. As a result of the medals captured in Atlanta, she becomes the most successful Olympian in Ireland and the country’s first woman to capture a gold medal.

Smith begins swimming competitively at age thirteen. Though she develops into one of Ireland’s premier junior swimmers, she realizes that without more advanced facilities and training techniques, she will never be able to compete at the international level. She goes to the United States to attend school and swim at the University of Houston, where she graduates with a degree in communications. Her times steadily improve and she makes the Irish Olympic teams for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. At both of those Games, however, she is eliminated in the preliminary rounds.

In 1994 Smith moves to the Netherlands with her coach and future husband, Erik de Bruin, to prepare for the 1996 Games. The next year she emerges as an elite athlete, winning the 200-metre butterfly and the 200-metre individual medley at the 1995 European Aquatics Championships. She continues to improve in 1996, taking 19 seconds off her best time in the 400-metre freestyle. In response to questions about her sudden turnaround, she credits more sophisticated training techniques and a single-minded focus on swimming. She also points out that she is probably the most tested athlete in Irish history and that she had never tested positive for banned substances.

Prior to the Atlanta Games, Ireland had won only five Olympic gold medals, and no medal — gold, silver, or bronze — had been won by Irish women. In one week, however, Smith rewrites the Irish record books. The 26-year-old swimmer wins the gold in three events — the 200-metre individual medley, the 400-metre individual medley, and the 400-metre freestyle — and captures the bronze medal in the 200-metre butterfly. Her triumph, however, is somewhat tarnished by unsubstantiated rumours that she had used performance-enhancing drugs. Some observers question her dramatic improvements in time and point to her marriage to de Bruin, a Dutch discus thrower who had been suspended from international competition for steroid use. Smith passes all the pre- and post-Olympic drug tests, however.

Smith’s success continues at the 1997 European Aquatic Championships, where she wins gold medals in the 200-metre butterfly and the 200-metre individual medley. In 1998, however, she receives a four-year ban for tampering with a urine sample during a drug test. She maintains her innocence, but her appeal of the ban before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) fails. She is 28 at the time, and the ban effectively ends her competitive swimming career. She is not stripped of her Olympic medals, as she has never tested positive for any banned substances.

Smith’s experiences at the CAS has an effect beyond her swimming career. It is there that she develops an interest in the law. After officially announcing her retirement from swimming in 1999, she returns to university, graduating from University College Dublin with a degree in law. In July 2005 she is conferred with the degree of Barrister at Law of King’s Inns, Dublin. While a student at the King’s Inns she wins the highly prestigious internal Brian Walsh Moot Court competition. Her book, Transnational Litigation: Jurisdiction and Procedure is published in 2008 by Thomson Round Hall.

In 1996, Smith releases her autobiography, Gold, co-written with Cathal Dervan. She lives in Kells, County Kilkenny with her husband and their two children.


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Death of Olympic Gold Medalist Martin John Sheridan

martin-john-sheridanMartin John Sheridan, “one of the greatest athletes the United States has ever known” according to his obituary in The New York Times, dies in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, New York City on March 27, 1918, the day before his 37th birthday.

Sheridan is born in Bohola, County Mayo on March 28, 1881. At 6’3″ and 194 lbs., Sheridan is the best all-around athlete of the Irish American Athletic Club, and like many of his teammates, serves with the New York City Police Department from 1906 until his death. He is so well respected in the NYPD, that he serves as the Governor’s personal bodyguard when the governor is in New York City.

A five-time Olympic gold medalist, with a total of nine Olympic medals, Sheridan is called “one of the greatest figures that ever represented this country in international sport, as well as being one of the most popular who ever attained the championship honor.” He wins the discus throw event at the 1904, 1906, and 1908 Summer Olympic Games as well as the shot put at the 1906 Olympics and the Greek discus in 1908. At the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, Greece he also wins silver medals in the standing high jump, standing long jump and the stone throw.

In 1907, Sheridan wins the National Amateur Athletic Union discus championship and the Canadian championship, and in 1908 he wins the Metropolitan, National and Canadian championships as well as two gold medals in the discus throw and bronze in the standing long jump at the 1908 Olympic Games.

Two of Sheridan’s gold medals from the 1904 Summer Olympic Games in St. Louis, Missouri and one of his medals from the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, Greece, are currently located in the USA Track & Field‘s Hall of Fame History Gallery, in Washington Heights, Manhattan.

There are claims that Sheridan fuels a controversy in London in 1908, when flagbearer Ralph Rose refuses to dip the flag to King Edward VII. Sheridan supports Rose by explaining “This flag dips to no earthly king,” and it is claimed that his statement exemplifies both Irish and American defiance of the British monarchy. However, careful research has shown that this is first reported in 1952. Sheridan himself makes no mention of it in his published reports on the Games and neither does his obituary.

Martin Sheridan dies in Manhattan, New York City on March 27, 1918, a very early casualty of the 1918 flu pandemic. He is buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York. The inscription on the granite Celtic Cross monument marking his grave says in part: “Devoted to the Institutions of his Country, and the Ideals and Aspirations of his Race. Athlete. Patriot.” He is part of a group of Irish American athletes known as the “Irish Whales.”