OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Carruth displays the craft to conquer world champion: Ken Jones on how courage and intelligence brought Ireland's first boxing gold medal

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WHEN it was announced that Michael Carruth had become an Olympic champion, people rushed out into the street where he lives in Dublin, and soon three Irish Air Corps jets were flying low overhead.

Nobody, not even Carruth's family and friends, imagined that there would be such a celebration when he went to his corner at the Olympic boxing arena in Badalona. Realistically, it was impossible to give their man a chance against Juan Hernandez, the world champion at welterweight, one of nine Cubans in the finals. It was enough that he had got there.

This was not how Carruth and his father, Austin, one of the Irish coaches, looked at things. Together with Nicholas Cruz, the Cuban sports professor who has been instructing the Irish boxers since 1988, they had worked out a way to reduce the advantages Hernandez had in height and reach.

In order to carry out the plan Carruth needed all his courage and intelligence, because the idea was to make Hernandez do the forcing. 'The Cubans aren't as effective coming forward,' Carruth said.

For the Irish supporters crammed into balcony seats, there had already been the disappointment of Wayne McCullough's defeat in the bantamweight final. Their best hope had gone. The way to bet was another silver.

Then Carruth set about his work, encouragingly holding his own against Hernandez if running the risk of being penalised in clinches that inevitably resulted from the fight plan. When the electronic scoreboard showed Carruth to be a point in front at the end of the first round the Irish contingent sent up a great cheer. The second round brought a feared three-point penalty, but Carruth, seldom giving an inch of ground, was still level.

As the result of an injury when attempting a difficult gymnastic routine 14 months ago, Carruth, a corporal in the Irish army, lost three inches from his southpaw reach. Doggedly overcoming the disadvantage, indeed doing his best work with right hooks off the jab, he held on to become the Republic of Ireland's first gold medallist since Ron Delany became the Olympic champion at 1500 metres at the 1956 Games in Melbourne. It was their first gold in Olympic boxing.

In 1956 they won three boxing medals, Fred Tiedt gaining a silver, John Cauldwell and Freddie Gilroy - who both became highly successful professionals - winning bronze.

Carruth, one of triplets in a family of 10 children, is unlikely to be seen in the professional ring, and in truth is not really equipped for it. The most popular member of the Republic's 61-strong Olympic team, he was not sure when the extent of his achievement would fully sink in. 'I can hardly believe this has happened,' he said. 'Coming down here today, I was sure that I had a real chance, a better chance perhaps than most people had given me. Now I've got the gold and when I get home you can be sure that there will be some celebrating done.'

Because it was difficult to obtain tickets for the boxing finals and not wanting any unnecessary disturbance, Carruth dissuaded his family from travelling to Barcelona. 'Apart from my father, none of them were here,' he said.

The whole of Ireland was there in spirit and when Carruth arrives home today the reception will probably match that given to Jack Charlton's footballers on returning from the 1990 World Cup. Carruth has already been promoted to sergeant. He could even be looking at a commission.

What we were looking at yesterday was the completion of Cuba's triumph in the boxing arena, one that sorely embarrassed the United States. In their first Olympic appearance since 1980 the Cubans dominated the tournament, winning seven gold and two silver medals. It says a lot for Carruth that he defeated one of their very best men.

(Photograph omitted)