Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This Day in Villanova T&F History

On December 1, 1956 in Melbourne, Australia Villanova's junior Ronnie Delany shocked the world by winning the Olympic Gold medal over 1500 meters, defeating the world record holder John Landy of Australia. Delany came from well off the pace (see photo below) and produced his vaunted finishing kick to defeat the homestanding Aussie in a new Olympic record of 3:41.2. The finish line photo above remains one of the classics in track and field history. It was the first Olympic track gold medal won by an Irishman since Bob Tisdall won gold in the 4oo hurdles in 1932 and propelled Delany to the status of Irish hero. His post-Olympic return to Ireland was the subject of a lengthy article in Sports Illustrated (see SI cover below) and his overland tour toward his hometown was the stuff of legends. From that moment forward, all Irish runners, especially milers, would have to live by the comparison to Delany. Some would argue that no Irishman since (not Eamonn Coghlan, not Ray Flynn, not Marcus O'Sullivan) has produced the national pride occasioned by Delany's majestic feat (feet).

Australian fans were hoping that John Landy, the second man in history to break 4:00 for the mile and the current World Record holder in the event(3:58.0), could bring home a gold medal. But he was by no means the unadulterated favorite. In fact, Bert Nelson wrote in Track and Field News at the time that as many as 10 of the 12 finalists were potential winners. The early pace was quick, but cautious, with everyone still within striking distance as another Aussie, Merv Lincoln, led the tightly bunched pack through 800-meters in 2:00.1. With a lap to go (2:46.6), positions had started to change, but everyone was still in contention, with Villanova’s Delany, who had just won the first of his three NCAA 1500/mile titles in June, sitting in 10th place (see below). The Irishman then started his amazing kick, one that would become familiar to American fans over the next few years, and started to quickly pass one runner after another. He finally took the lead coming off the final turn and went on to win the gold medal with an Olympic Record time of 3:41.2. Germany’s Klaus Richtzenhain edged Landy for the silver medal(3:42.0 for both).

Delany, with his “herky-jerky” stride, had already started his fabled indoor career by winning the first of his four straight Wanamaker Miles at the Millrose Games earlier in the year, and he would eventually become one of the most popular runners ever to grace the boards at NY’s Madison Square Garden. Never lacking in confidence, Delany said recently, “I think the Irish press rated my chances at 100-1, but I knew in my own mind I would win. Although the reality was I needed a lot of things to go right on the day and I needed to be tactically astute”. Both requirements were met. After crossing the line, Delany fell to his knees and was congratulated by Landy, who took bronze.

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