Simon Turnbull: Britain or Ireland? Why McIlroy has to choose for Rio 2016

Olympic Diary
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The Independent Online

It remains to be seen whether Rory McIlroy – the boy from Holywood, Northern Ireland, who made it big in the US last month – will be tasting success in another of the golfing majors at Sandwich come Sunday. It will be another five years before he will be able to get his teeth into an Olympic challenge, when golf is re-introduced to the Games after a gap of 112 years in Rio de Janeiro. Still, the US Open champion is being lined up to play a part in the lead up to the 2012 Games.

McIlroy is expected to be involved in the Olympic Torch Relay when it visits Northern Ireland in June next year – possibly as part of a cross-border leg between Belfast and Dublin. The question of which country he will represent when it comes to the Rio Olympics in 2016 has yet to be formally confirmed.

Under the terms of the Olympic Charter, sportsmen or women living in Northern Ireland have the choice of competing at the Games for either Great Britain and Northern Ireland or for Ireland. "It's a bit of an awkward question," McIlroy confessed in September 2009, "but I have a British passport and it would be Great Britain for me." That, however, was a month before the International Olympic Committee voted golf back on to the Games programme.

As amateurs, all golfers compete for Ireland whether they are from north or south of the border, as they do in rugby union. Since turning professional in 2007, McIlroy has also played for Ireland in the World Cup.

There have been representation problems in the Olympic arena in the long distant past, prior to Irish independence. When Peter O'Connor, Con Leahy and John Daly arrived in Athens for the 1906 Games, with green blazers and an Irish flag, they were outraged to discover they were listed in the programme as British and not Irish.

O'Connor, the first officially-recognised holder of the world long jump record, filed a protest but the Greek Olympic Organising Committee voted that because Ireland had no National Olympic Committee and was part of the United Kingdom at that time the trio had to represent Britain. When O'Connor finished second in the long jump and the Union Jack was raised at the medal ceremony, he shinned up the pole, unfurled his Irish flag and waved it in defiance. Leahy and a group of Irish-American athletes stood guard at the foot of the pole.

Canadian walked on his hands to pick up last Olympic golf gold

McIlroy will be 27 when he gets a shot at Olympic glory, more than likely as a member of Team GB. George Lyon was 46 when he won the last Olympic golf tournament in St Louis in 1904. A noted cricketer and pole vaulter (he held the Canadian record), he did not pick up a golf club until he was 38.

In the final, Lyon beat Chandler Egan, an American half his age. He then walked on his hands to receive his gold medal. He might have collected another four years later.

Lyon made the trip to London for the 1908 Games, only to find himself the sole entrant, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club having stirred up opposition because the scheduling of the tournament clashed with established domestic events. Lyon was offered the gold medal by default but declined to accept - "out of respect for the game," he said.

Outrage if Olympic torch does not pass through Much Wenlock

They were crowning new golf champions on the final day of the 125th Wenlock Olympian Games on Monday. the men's team captained by Leon Bodnieks and the women's by Mary Pacey. Much Wenlock has been overlooked as an overnight stay on the Olympic Torch Relay; it could not have coped with the size of the entourage. There will be outrage if the torch does not at least pass through the Shropshire market town where Baron Pierre de Coubertin got the idea for an Olympic Games.

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