Friday 24 May 2019

World records met with shrug as Delany hunted gold

Sean Diffley

Ronnie Delany's carrying of the Olympic flame was, in contrast to times past, surely the slowest of his running career.

A droll smile, perhaps, with memories of half a century ago where beer-infused spectators in Madison Square Garden booed him for just winning another indoor mile but not bothering about setting another record.

Delany's philosophy was a simple policy of winning his races and not striving to improve on the stop-watch. Indoor athletics, virtually unknown this side of the world, was hugely popular in the US, with sell-out crowds in the smoke-filled arenas, and Delany was a huge star, unbeaten -- and lustily cheered when he broke the indoor mile record three times, ovations he scorned.

There were also famous meetings in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Milwaukee and other centres throughout the winter months, and Delany was the leading sports story every week in the big American newspapers.

Strangely, Delany's fame in the US was much more widespread than in Ireland, even after his 1500m Olympic victory in 1956.

And the same applies to his Irish and Villanova successor, the 'Chairman of the Boards', Eamonn Coghlan, who also broke the mile indoor world record -- three times -- and was a bit more concerned with chasing records.

Now the expense of modern-day sport has meant the demise of indoor meetings in the US. Only the Millrose Games survive. That is the meeting where Delany and Coghlan regularly won the famous Wanamaker mile.

In his indoor days in the States, Delany was often compared with sporting icons like Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, Babe Ruth and Ben Hogan.

From January '56 to March '59 Delany won all 34 mile races he ran and, pushed a bit in three, he set new world indoor records.

His opponents were the cream of American milers and a succession of noted foreigners, including the Hungarian world 1500m record holder Istvan Rozsavolgyi.

In fact, in that month of March 1959, Delany beat Rozsavolgyi three times.

A week after that he ran his last indoor mile in Chicago, which was his 40th consecutive win indoors.

That last mile in Madison Square, his fifth last, the Hungarian pressured him to a new world record of 4:01.4. Lo and behold, in that last race of his career his 'connoisseurs' in the stands gave him a resounding ovation.

Like Cinderella and her glass slipper, he sent them home happy.

Irish Independent

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