seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.


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Lord Killanin Becomes President of the International Olympic Committee

Michael Morris, 3rd Baron Killanin, journalist, author, and sports official, becomes the first Irish president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on August 23, 1972.

Morris is born in London on July 30, 1914, the son of Irish Catholic Lt. Col. George Henry Morris who is from Spiddal in County Galway. The Morrises are one of the fourteen families making up the “Tribes of Galway.”

Morris is educated at Summerfields, St. Leonards-on-Sea, Eton College, the Sorbonne in Paris and then Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he is President of the renowned Footlights dramatic club. He succeeds his uncle as Baron Killanin in the Peerage of the United Kingdom in 1927, which allows him to sit in the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster as Lord Killanin upon turning 21. In the mid-1930s, he begins his career as a journalist on Fleet Street, working for the Daily Express, the Daily Sketch and subsequently the Daily Mail.

In November 1938, Lord Killanin is commissioned into the Queen’s Westminsters, a territorial regiment of the British Army, where he is responsible for recruiting fellow journalists, including future The Daily Telegraph editor Bill Deedes, and friends who are musicians and actors. He reaches the rank of major and takes part in the planning of D-Day and the Invasion of Normandy in 1944, acting as brigade major for the 30th Armoured Brigade, part of the 79th Armoured Division. He is appointed, due to the course of operations, a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). After being demobilised, he goes to Ireland. He resigna his TA commission in 1951.

In 1950, Lord Killanin becomes the head of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI), and becomes his country’s representative in the IOC in 1952. He becomes senior vice-president in 1968, and succeeds Avery Brundage, becoming President-elect at the 73rd IOC Session (August 21–24) held in Munich prior to the 1972 Summer Olympics. He takes office soon after the Games.

During Lord Killanin’s presidency, the Olympic movement experiences a difficult period, dealing with the financial flop of the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and the boycotts of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Denver, originally selected to host the 1976 Winter Olympics, withdraws and has to be replaced by Innsbruck. The cities of Lake Placid, New York and Los Angeles are chosen for 1980 Winter Olympics and 1984 Summer Olympics by default due to a lack of competing bids. He resigns just before the Moscow Olympics in 1980, and his position is taken over by Juan Antonio Samaranch. He is later unanimously elected Honorary Life President.

Lord Killanin serves as Honorary Consul-General of Monaco in Ireland from 1961 to 1984 and as Chairman of the Race Committee for Galway Racecourse from 1970 to 1985. A keen horse racing enthusiast, he also serves as a steward of the Irish Turf Club on two occasions and on the National Hunt Steeplechase Committee. In his business life Lord Killanin is a director of many companies including Irish Shell, Ulster Bank, Beamish & Crawford and Chubb Ireland. He is a founder member of An Taisce (The National Trust for Ireland) and is chairman of the National Monuments Advisory Council until his death.

Lord Killanin dies at his home in Dublin on April 25, 1999 at the age of 84 and, following a bilingual funeral Mass at St. Enda’s Church in Spiddal, County Galway, he is buried in the family vault in the New Cemetery, Galway.

(Pictured: Lord Killanin by Bert Verhoeff / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY-SA 3.0 nl (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/nl/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)