Monday 22 January 2018

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Ryan led gold rush for Irish 'whales'

Damian Lawlor's article last Sunday, in referring to the athletic feats of Olympic champion hammer thrower Paddy Ryan who was also the grandfather of Dublin hurler Ryan O'Dwyer, hardly did the great man full justice.

Paddy Ryan, who was magnificently built at 6ft 4in and over 19 stone and has been described in contemporary records as gregarious, genial and generous, was a colourful member of the school of Irish-American 'whales' who dominated the hammer throwing event in the early 20th century. He was a completely self-taught athlete, albeit a slow developer, who created a major sensation in Irish athletics in 1902 when defeating the legendary champion Tom Kiely in the Irish championships in Limerick.

However, it was only after emigrating to America in 1910 that Ryan really established himself as one of the world's best throwers, when winning the American 56lb weight throwing title. He did not complete in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, when the hammer throwing gold medal was won by his great rival, Matt McGrath, who was also born in Ireland, but in 1913 Ryan established himself as the world's greatest hammer thrower, when winning his first American (AAU) hammer title with a throw of 177ft 7 and three quarter inches and then, on August 13 of that year, at the Firemen's Games at Celtic Park, New York, he set a world record of 189ft 6in for the event, which was the first officially recognised hammer world record by the newly formed International Amateur Athletics Federation. Amazingly, Ryan's throw stood as a world record for 25 years, until it was surpassed by Erwin Blask of Germany on August 27, 1938, with a throw of 193ft 7in and furthermore it stood as an American national record for 40 years, until 1953.

Ryan's Olympic gold medal in the hammer in the Antwerp Games in 1920 was also somewhat unique as it was won in a throwing circle which was sodden and muddy, was won by him at the age of 38, and in doing so he won by no less than 15 feet from the runner-up, Carl Lindh of Sweden. It still remains the greatest winning margin in the history of the Olympic hammer event.

Ryan won a record eight American hammer titles from 1913 to 1921, missing out only in 1918 when he was on service with the American Expeditionary Force in France. Having won his last American title in Pasadena in 1921, he returned to Ireland to win the national hammer title yet again, bringing his tally to 12 Irish national titles.

Incidentally, Ryan, as implied by Lawlor, could not have won the 1916 Olympic gold medal in the hammer due to being based in Britain and refusing to represent them as the 1916 Games which had been allocated to Berlin were not held due to the outbreak of the First World War. It is further interesting to note that from the inception of hammer as an Olympic event in the 1900 Games in Paris, an Irish-born athlete won the gold medal in each games until Fred Tootell of the USA won gold in 1924 -- John Flanagan, who was born in Kilbreedy, Co Limerick, winning in 1900, 1904 and 1908 (the first athlete to win three successive Olympic gold medals in any event and a feat not equalled until the great Al Oerter did so in the discus in Tokyo in 1964), Matt McGrath, born in Nenagh, 1912, and Ryan, to be followed by Dr Pat O'Callaghan, in successive Olympics in 1928 and 1932. It means that of the first eight Olympic hammer events, Irish-born athletes won seven of the eight gold medals on offer. Sadly, we have made no impression in the event since then, John Lawlor's fourth place in Rome in 1960 being the notable exception.

James Healy

Gremlins not good sport in Montrose

Declan Lynch penned an article last Sunday on the consistent errors in sports reports on RTE.

If proof were needed, our national broadcaster produced it on May 2. The presenter on the one o'clock news blithely informed us that snooker champion John Higgins broke down when the recent death of his father Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins was mentioned.

To compound matters, on the 6.01 news Colm Murray spoke of the marathon eight-race programme at Punchestown that same day. Needless to say there were seven races.

Did RTE apologise for, or rectify, these errors when they were pointed out (I called the station)? Do pigs fly?

Fergus Moroney

Sunday Indo Sport

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