20 years on from his Olympic gold, 2012 will be a bittersweet anniversary for Michael Carruth. It’s the first time the games will come and go without his father and trainer Austin.
“He passed away 13 months ago, the greatest coach that ever lived. Bottom line. Myself, Billy Walsh and all the gang, just pretenders to his throne.”
Family ties are a common theme for the Carruths in Drimnagh. There’s the Carruth roundabout, named after the family in 2009. There’s also Drimnagh Boxing Club.
Filled with memories, stepping into the gym is like opening a time capsule. There’s newspaper cuttings of every boxer who’s ever made something of themselves on the wall. There’s a huge canvas at the back of the most famous son of all.
He describes the Sunday afternoon his family found out he’d qualified like he was there himself. Likely refined through many retellings, the story just rolls off the tongue.
“When there was something wrong Ozzie used to scratch his head, so he comes in scratching his head from the kitchen. So my ma says “Sure, he tried his best.” “Well now, he done a bit better than that, he’s after qualifying for the Olympics.” And the place went bananas, I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for that.
“I had qualified for my second Olympics and about four or five weeks later, he comes in from the kitchen again scratching his head while we’re all sitting there watching television. He goes “You know the way you’re going to the Olympics, well I’m going with you!” Well, I jumped higher than I did when I won my medal. For all his years of commitment to boxing, it was a just reward for him.”
Carruth’s second Olympic games turned out much better than his first. In 1988, in Seoul, he was eliminated in his second bout by knockout. The training camp was haphazard for the boxing team. They were sent to a hotel in Kerry in seclusion. Hitting heavy bags in a ballroom was far behind what the Eastern European and Cuban teams were doing to prepare. Carruth described it as “shambolic”.
“For Barcelona, we got ready mostly in Laytown in Drogheda. We all love the camp – mostly because it was an hour from Dublin. Then they brought us over to East Germany then for four or five weeks. It was hard but well worth it. The heads were right, our body’s were right.”
“The biggest difference in the 20 years has been that we’re now full time. I wasn’t full time in 1992. I had no right to win at the Olympic Games, Wayne McCullough had no right to do as well as he did. There was no stopping us two. We were probably a generation ahead of the rest.”
He laughs about coming back home famous. He describes strangers coming up to him in the street and hugging him, thanking him. On the other side there was “alpha males” wanting to test their mettle against the Olympic gold medallist every once in a while. The vast majority of his experiences are positive, even if he rarely got to finish a drink.
“I became the champion sipper of the country. If I was anywhere having a coffee or a pint, it wouldn’t be too long before I was dragged away for a conversation and some photos. So I gave myself that nickname, every drink I had my hand on for two years I only got a sip of. “
Carruth’s focus these days is on spreading boxing throughout Dublin. In his role as a boxing development officer for Dublin City Council he’s tasked with bringing the sport back to the community. They are currently working in the five districts of Dublin and hope to branch out to South Dublin, Fingal and the rest in the next few years.
He has high hopes for the current crop of fighters. While I was interviewing him, we got word that Adam Nolan had qualified for this year’s Olympic Games in London. However, he doesn’t mince his words about how successful the team should be.
“If we don’t get a gold medal 20 years on it’s a failure. I mean the boys, not the girls. Not to be disrespectful, Katie [Taylor] has beaten everyone put in front of here for the last three or four years. You have to believe that she’ll pull it out. The boys have been fully funded for the last 10 years. That’s the main difference.
“Adam Nolan has been the surprise package of the tournament so far. Adam’s a lovely young man, lovely style and a lovely height for his weight class. I always say cream rises to the top so if it’s for them, they’ll pull it. out”
The photo in his office of his father looks down on us. The resemblance to Michael and his two brothers is uncanny. He’s passed on some amazing memories to his family and to his club.
“We came back into our room after the medal ceremony. He went over to the ‘dirty corner’ where we keep all our boxers and all that. He proceeds to put my gold medal into his dirty sock. “What are you doing Ozzie?” I said with more colorful language than that. “Listen” he says, “they’ll rob that gold medal but they’ll never rob my smelly socks”. I said that at his eulogy and the church erupted. Typical Ozzie, always thinking.”