It's 14 years since Ireland almost won the most unlikely of Olympic medals

Clifton Wrottesley came fourth in the Men's Skeleton in Salt Lake City

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Clifton Wrottesley ©INPHO/Allsport

Lord Clifton Hugh Lancelot de Verdin Wrottesley may not sound like your average Irish sports star, but the Galway-born athlete came as close to winning a Winter Olympic medal for Ireland than anyone else ever has.

On February 20th 2002, Wrottesley lost out on a bronze medal in the Men's Skeleton event in Salt Lake City by 0.42 seconds. The then 34-year-old finished third on the first run at the Utah Olympic Park before a disappointing second run cost him a historic medal.


Wrottesley became a household name in Ireland after his Olympic exploits but his performances in Salt Lake City even took him by surprise. He told the BBC that despite finishing in fourth place, he was delighted to come so close to a medal. "No way is it the worst position to end up. For me, this is the best feeling in the world".

"I never expected anything like this, so there is no sense of defeat whatsoever." Despite finishing third on the first run, Wrottesley fell down the standings after a ninth place finish on the second run. The gold medal was won by America's Jimmy Shea.

Shea's win was one of the most emotional of the Salt Lake City Olympics. The gold medallist was a third-generation Winter Olympian. His grandfather was killed in a road collision less than three weeks before the Olympics started.

In an interview with The Irish Times last year, Wrottesley revealed that an early practice run of the Salt Lake track with a camera taped to his helmet was a crucial reason behind his performance. "In the build-up to an Olympics, a POV tape of the track is currency. So I copied what I shot onto a load of tapes and basically used them to barter for knowledge and expertise from the rest of the guys I would be competing against."”

"I got track notes, I got tips on why my starts were so much slower than theirs, I got insider tips on every aspect of the sport. So those tapes were key, they really were."Since the 2002 Games, Wrottesley 

Since the 2002 Games, Wrottesley has helped Irish athletes qualify from the subsequent three Olympics, including a term as Ireland's Chef de Mission in 2006. He is currently a board member of the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association and lives in St. Moritz, Switzerland.