up on Meath eggs
year marks the 50th anniversary of Ronnie Delany's
surprise victory in the 1,500 metres at the 1956 Olympic
Games in Melbourne and Meath can take special pride in the
great achievement of the popular former middle distance
runner as he has strong links with the Royal County.
Ronald Michael Delany was born near Arklow in Co. Wicklow
on March 6, 1935, but he grew up in Sandymount, Dublin,
and the fact that this area was strong when it came to sport
probably played a significant role in his development as
an athlete of considerable talent.
Ronnies Meath links are very strong as his father,
Patrick Anthony (PA), was born at Growtown, Batterstown,
in the early part of the last century and is buried there.
Ronnie still has five cousins living there, while his brother
Paddy resides at Lynaghstown, Batterstown, close to The
He fondly recalls summer holidays as a youngster spent at
Growtown, where shooting was a hobby, and visiting an elderly
aunt, Annie Delany, at Alexandereid, just outside Navan.
The former Olympic champion can also recall a memorable
era for Meath football and remembers Brian Smyth playing
for the county and captaining them to the All-Ireland senior
title in 1949 - Meaths historic breakthrough in the
grade. Peter McDermott, captain of the team that brought
the Sam Maguire Cup to the county for the second time in
1954, is another star player of that era he remembers lining
out for the Royal County.
"I was fed on good Meath eggs, fresh country eggs,"
When Delany crossed the finish line in Melbourne almost
half a century ago he became the first Irish athlete since
Bob Tisdall (400 metres hurdles) and Pat OCallaghan
(hammer) in the Los Angeles Games of 1932 to claim Olympic
The Crusaders clubman, who was always renowned for
his tremendous finishing speed, produced a blistering last
200 metres of 25.6 seconds in the final and that helped
him to an Olympic record of 3:41.2. The German Klaus Richtzenhain
finished second and that great Australian athlete John Landy,
who had set world records over both 1,500 metres and the
mile in the summer of 1954, was third.
Its remarkable to think that only a matter of months
before his tremendous triumph in Melbourne there were those
who thought Delanys form didnt merit a trip
to the Olympics. During the summer he had lost two mile
races to his big English rival Brian Hewson in College Park,
Dublin, but Delany went on to demonstrate just how foolish
it would have been to leave him out of Irelands Olympic
Delany, who had to obtain special leave of absence from
Villanova University in the United States to travel to Melbourne,
qualified for the 1,500 metres final comfortably from the
second heat which was won by Australian Merv Lincoln in
3:45.4 from Britains Ken Wood, with the Irish man
clocking a time of 3:47.7.
A field of 12 runners lined up for the final on a warm and
still December afternoon and most eyes were on the immensely
talented Landy who carried with him around the three and
three-quarter laps most of the hopes of the home country.
Murray Halberg of New Zealand led from Hewson after the
opening 400 metres, with Delany content to sit back in second
last place. With two laps remaining Lincoln was out in front
and running strongly, while Delany had only two athletes
behind him and was clearly going to need to call on that
renowned finishing speed if he was to claim a medal for
The sound of the bell to signal the start of the final lap
is usually also the signal for these races to really heat
up, but there was no bell as the official in charge got
too excited by the action on the track and forgot to shake
By this stage Hewson and Lincoln were disputing the lead
and Delany was 10th, but only a matter of a few strides
off the pace. With 200 metres to go Delanys great
speed really came into play and it needed to because Hewson
was all of eight yards clear of the pack.
The Irish man was making relentless progress and by the
time they reached the last bend he had moved into second
position and had only his great rival Hewson in front of
him. As Delany surged to the front to take the gold medal,
the unfortunate Hewson faded back into fourth place - the
most dreaded of all positions in a final.
That tremendous victory was the highlight of a wonderfully
successful Melbourne Olympics for a very small Irish team
comprising of only 12 representatives in all and just three
athletes - Delany, hurdler Eamonn Kinsella and track runner
Apart from Delanys gold there were four medals in
boxing - Fred Teidts silver and bronze for Tony Byrne,
Freddie Gilroy and John Caldwell.
Athletes and cyclists in Ireland were bitterly divided in
those years and the internationally outlawed NCA sent a
cycling team on the long trip to Melbourne, but the three
riders werent allowed to take part.
As for media coverage of the Melbourne Olympics, there was
only one travelling journalist from this country, Arthur
P. McWeeney of the Irish Independent, and people back home
depended on the old BBC Light Programme for live coverage
on the radio. Delanys 1,500 metres victory was relayed
to Ireland at breakfast time. Just imagine the excitement
on that crackling machine as the Irishman raced to glory.
That fantastic triumph Down Under represented the pinnacle
of Delanys athletics career, but there were many other
high points for a man who became involved in athletics through
his older brother Joe who participated in events such as
the 220 and 440 yards and the high jump and long jump.
Brendan Hennessy and Jack Sweeney were influential figures
during the early years of Ronnies career and he was
coached by the renowned Jumbo Elliott during his time at
His first achievement of note came when he qualified for
the final of the 800 metres at the 1954 European Championships
in Berne, before deciding to try his hand at the mile the
following year. Delanys acceptance of a scholarship
offer to Villanova was a big stepping-stone in his career
and in his first outing over a mile he set a new Irish record
of 4:5.8 at College Park and another milestone was reached
on June 1, 1956 when, at the age of 21, he became the youngest
man to run the distance in under four minutes, clocking
3:59.0 in Compton, USA, and beating Gunnar Nielsen of Denmark
in the process.
Delany was the winner of four successive AAU titles over
the mile in North America, thus adding to his tally of four
Irish national titles and three NCAA titles.
In 1958 he took the bronze medal in the 1,500 metres at
the European Championships with a clocking of 3:42.3, as
winner Hewson gained some measure of compensation for the
disappointment in Melbourne, while also among his successes
was a victory over 800 metres in the World Student Games
in a time of 1:51.1.
The Crusaders athlete broke the indoor world record
for the mile on no fewer that four occasions in the late
1950s and set a European indoor record of 3:51.0 over 1,500
metres in 1957.
Apart from that never to be forgotten trip to Melbourne
and his great triumph in 1956, Delany represented Ireland
in one other Olympic Games. That was in Rome four years
later when he ran in the 800 metres and, affected by every
athletes biggest dread, injury, he was eliminated
at the semi-final stage.
Delany retired from competitive athletics in 1962 and what
great memories he must have brought with him to that retirement
- particularly of that historic afternoon in Melbourne six
As an athlete he was gifted and he was also a tremendous
ambassador for this country.