seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Birth of Bob Tisdall, Olympic Gold Medalist

bob-tisdallRobert (“Bob”) Morton Newburgh Tisdall, gold medalist in the 400 metres hurdles at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, is born on May 16, 1907 in Nuwara Eliya, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Born to a family of Irish landed gentry, he lives on his father’s plantation in Ceylon until the age of five, when they return to the family home in Nenagh, County Tipperary. Following prep school at Mourne Grange, he goes on to Shrewsbury School, where he wins the Public Schools 402 metres, and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he wins a record four events – 402 metres and 110 metres hurdles, long jump and shot put – in the annual match against Oxford. This record is only equaled nearly 60 years later.

Tisdall sets South African and Canadian records in the 201 metres low hurdles in 1929, a year later setting Greek records in the same event. While at Cambridge in March 1932, he decides to try for a place on the Irish Olympic squad and, after he runs a record 54.2 seconds for the Irish Championship 402 metres hurdles in June that year, the authorities agree to let him run in his new event at the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Tisdall had run only six 400 metres hurdles when he wins the gold medal at the 1932 Olympic Games in a world record time of 51.7 seconds, which is not recognised under the rules of the time because he had a hit a hurdle. Later, because of the notoriety of this incident, the rules are changed and the President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, presents Tisdall with a Waterford Crystal rose bowl with the image of him knocking over the last hurdle etched into the glass. Though the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) did not recognise the record at the time, they now recognise the mark, giving Tisdall credit for setting the milestone of being the first man under 52 seconds.

Following his victory, Tisdall is invited to a dinner in Los Angeles where he is seated next to Amelia Earhart on one side and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. on the other.

Later in life, Tisdall lives in South Africa, where he runs a gymnasium during the day, which he converts to a night club after dark. He grows coffee in Tanzania, but moves to Nambour, Queensland in 1969 with his wife Peggy, where he farms fruit crops and cattle. He admits to running his last race at the age of 80, though he runs in the Sydney Olympics torch relay at age 93. At that point he is the oldest living recipient of an individual track and field Olympic medal。

At the age of 96 Tisdall falls down a steep set of rock stairs and breaks his shoulder, ribs and ruptures his spleen. He never completely recovers and dies on July 27, 2004. At that time, he is the world’s oldest track and field Olympic Gold medalist. He does not want a funeral because “they are altogether too sad.” His wake is attended by family and a few friends.

In 2002, three statues honouring Olympic champions with links to Nenagh, Matt McGrath, Johnny Hayes and Bob Tisdall, are unveiled in front of the Nenagh Courthouse.


Leave a comment

Birth of Ron Delany, Olympic Gold Medalist

ron-delanyRonald Michael Delany, athlete who specialises in middle distance running, is born in Arklow, County Wicklow on March 6, 1935. He wins a gold medal in the 1500 metres event at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne. He later earns a bronze medal in the 1500 metres event at the 1958 European Athletics Championships in Stockholm.

Delany moves with his family to Sandymount, Dublin 4 when he is six. He later goes to Sandymount High School and then to Catholic University School. He studies commerce and finance at Villanova University in the United States. While there he is coached by the well-known track coach James F. “Jumbo” Elliott.

Delany’s first achievement of note is reaching the final of the 800 metres at the 1954 European Athletics Championships in Bern. In 1956, he becomes the seventh runner to join the club of four-minute milers, but nonetheless struggles to make the Irish team for the 1956 Summer Olympics, held in Melbourne.

Delany qualifies for the Olympic 1500 metres final, in which local runner John Landy is the big favourite. Delany keeps close to Landy until the final lap, when he starts a crushing final sprint, winning the race in a new Olympic record. He thereby becomes the first Irishman to win an Olympic gold medal in athletics since Bob Tisdall in 1932. The Irish people learn of its new champion at breakfast time. He would be Ireland’s last Olympic champion for 36 years, until Michael Carruth wins the gold medal in boxing at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.

Delany wins the bronze medal in the 1500 metres event at the 1958 European Athletics Championships. He goes on to represent Ireland once again at the 1960 Summer Olympics held in Rome, this time in the 800 metres. He finishes sixth in his quarter-final heat.

Delany continues his running career in North America, winning four successive Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) titles in the mile, adding to his total of four Irish national titles, and three NCAA titles. He is next to unbeatable on indoor tracks over that period, which includes a 40-race winning streak. He breaks the World Indoor Mile Record on three occasions. In 1961 he wins the gold medal in the World University Games in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Delany retires from competitive running in 1962, securing his status as Ireland’s most recognisable Olympian as well as one of the greatest sportsmen and international ambassadors in his country’s history.