Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Flags fly for returning Olympians

Boxer Katie Tayor holds her Olympic gold medal as she arrives with the rest of the Irish team at Dublin Airport

Gold medallist and flag bearer Katie Taylor has rounded off her Olympic dream by flying a Tricolour from a plane as Team Ireland returned home.

The champion boxer smiled and waved from the cockpit of the Aer Lingus jet with her medal on show and revealed that it has not left her neck since the success.

"I haven't let it out of my sight. I've been sleeping with it," she said.

The five medallists - Mullingar boxer John Joe Nevin with a silver, double bronze boxer Paddy Barnes, fellow Belfast boxer Michael Conlan and showjumper Cian O'Connor, also both with bronze, led the team of 66 athletes to a private reception with scores of family and friends and dignitaries.

An emotional Sonia O'Sullivan, Team Ireland chef de mission, said she was proud of all the team members and the Olympic spirit they displayed. She said: "It's very easy for us to focus on our medal winners but I believe that their cause is helped along on by a positive team spirit."

O'Sullivan, a silver medal winner at Sydney in 2000, praised the work put in by boxing captain Darren O'Neill who continued to support and drive on his team-mates despite being knocked out of his middleweight division early.

The return had been overshadowed by reports of a split over whether or not athletes should attend a public homecoming. Katie Taylor's coach and father Pete was angered over suggestions he had turned down the offer of a celebration on the streets of Dublin. He had not been consulted.

Pat Hickey, Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) president, insisted there was no rift between the sports body and the Taylor camp over the claim.

"There is no rift whatsoever between Pete Taylor and the Olympic Council of Ireland or the athletes," he told RTE Radio. "I personally have a great relationship with Pete Taylor. He was misquoted in several papers about many things. Of course the man was very angry."

Initial plans for a homecoming had been suggested as early as August 2 but the OCI and Dublin City Council failed to get support from most athletes. Mr Hickey rejected claims that the whole homecoming plan had been botched but admitted communications failures. "Shambles is too big of a word," he said.

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