Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Irish athletes at the start of the 20th century...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Irish athletes at the start of the 20th century...

Consider this...between the start of the modern Olympics in Athens in 1896 and the 1920 games in Antwerp in 1920, Irish athletes won no less than 25 gold medals. Competing for Great Britain or the United States, they came to be dominant force especially in some of the throwing events like the hammer, shot-put and discus. Amongst the most famous were the three Irish Whales representing the USA...John Flanagan, Martin Sheridan and James Mitchell...pictured above.

The origin of the nickname The Irish Whales dates back to the time when the American team were taking the long boat journey to the 1912 Olympic games in Stockholm. According to Dan Ferris, secretary of the American Athletic Union..."Those big fellows all sat at the same table and their waiter was a small chap. Before we reached Stockholm he had lost 20lbs, worn down by bringing them food. Once, as he passed me, he muttered under his breath: "It's whales they are, not men." They used to take five plates of soup as a starter and then gulp down three or four steaks with trimmings. That Simon Gillis would think nothing of having a dozen eggs for breakfast. But what fascinated me way the way he ate them. He would put a dab of mustard on each and eat it whole, shell and all. The Irish American AC behemoths always were the life of any party."

John Flanagan was from Kilbreedy, County Limerick and won three Olympic hammer titles in a row from 1900 to 1908 before returning to Ireland from the USA.
Statue of John Flanagan in the parish of Martinstown, Co.Limerick

Martin Sheridan was from Bohola, County Mayo. At 6ft 3" and 16 stone, he was one of the most successful Olympic athletes in history and the only Irish athlete to earn a place in the IAAF Hall of Fame. He had moved to New York at the age of 18 to join the New York Police. In total he won five Olympic gold medals. He died at the age of 36 in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918.

The third and final 'whale' in the picture was James Mitchell from Tipperary who was a big weight (56lb) thrower.

Other famous names at the time included....
Pat "Babe" McDonald from Doonbeg, County Clare who was 6ft 5in and 21 stone. In New York, he was a traffic policeman in Times Square, New York, aand dubbed by the local press as the "Living Statue of Liberty" He won the Olympic shot-put in Stockholm in 1912 and took silver in the two-handed competition. At the age of 42 in the Antwerp Games of 1920, he won the 56lb weight toss with a throw of over 36 feet.

Matt McGrath, from Nenagh County Tipperary, succeeded John Flannagan to take the 1912 title in Stockholm while in 1920 it was the turn of Paddy Ryan, a native of Limerick before heading for New York where he also became a policeman. When Flannagan won his 1908 titles, 'Irish' throwers also won the silver and bronze medals – McGrath for the USA and Cork's Cornelius Walsh for Canada.
Even when Ireland finally achieved independence from Britain (1922) this was the one event in which the tradition lingered on a little with Pat O'Callaghan from Kanturk in County Cork taking the 1928 and 1932 gold medals.

1900 PARIS...Hammer: GOLD: John Flannagan (Limerick, USA), High Jump:SILVER and Long Jump:BRONZE: Patrick Leahy (Limerick, GB)
1904 ST LOUIS...Discus: GOLD: Martin Sheridan (Mayo, USA), Hammer: GOLD: John Flannagan (Limerick, USA), 56lb weight SILVER: John Flannagan, BRONZE James Mitchell (Tipperary, USA)
All-rounder GOLD: Tom Kiely (Tipperary, GB)
1906 ATHENS...Discus: GOLD Martin Sheridan (Mayo, USA), Shot putt GOLD Martin Sheridan (Mayo, USA), Stone Throw GOLD Martin Sheridan (Mayo, USA), High Jump GOLD & Triple Jump SILVER Con Leahy (Limerick, GB)
1908 LONDON...Discus: GOLD: Martin Sheridan (Mayo, USA), Hammer: GOLD: John Flannagan (Limerick, USA), SILVER: Matt McGrath (Tipperary, USA), BRONZE: Cornelius Walsh (Cork, Canada), Greek Discus GOLD: Martin Sheridan (Mayo USA), Shot putt: SILVER: Dennis Horgan (Cork, GB), High Jump: SILVER Con Leahy (Limerick, GB)
1912 STOCKHOLM...Hammer: GOLD Matt McGrath (Tipperary, USA), Shot put: GOLD Pat McDonald (Doonbeg, USA), Two handed shot putt: SILVER Pat McDonald (Doonbeg, USA)
1920 ANTWERP...Hammer: GOLD: Paddy Ryan (Limerick, USA), 56lb weight GOLD Pat MacDonald (Doonbeg, USA), SILVER: Paddy Ryan (Limerick, USA)


Anonymous said...

It is great to see the statue of John Flanagan in the parish of Martinstown Co.Limerick on one of my long run routes when i pass that way.
He is a local legend there.

Anonymous said...

I see you are a runner. Did you know John and his brother Tom were responsible for bringing the legendary Indian Marathon runner Tom Longboat to Kilmallock after running from Limerick. Tom Flanagan who was also a hammer thrower was Tom Longboats manager and also manager the heavy weight boxer Jack Johnson

Unknown said...

I was at the unveiling of John Flanagan's statue. It was an amazing emotional event. He was my Great Uncle and truly a great athlete and hero.