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24 DUBLIN CITY Gazette 14 April 2016

Ireland’s most famous Olympian, EXCLUSIVE

Golden exploits of Dublin’s proudest sporting son Almost 60 years ago, Ronnie Delany sent Dublin and the rest of the country into delirium with his golden exploits at the Melbroune Olympics. No Irish athlete has managed to achieve such a gold run since. For the 81-year-old, family life in Dublin is far more important than any Olympic gold medal.  Cathal Dennehy

Almost 60 years have passed since one of Dublin’s proudest sons, Ronnie Delany, turned in a performance that would change his life forever. It was December 1,

1956, when the Sandymount resident – competing over 10,000 miles in Melbourne, Australia – sent the Irish nation into euphoria, sprinting to gold in 1500m at the Olympic Games. Six decades on, the memory has crystal-

lised in his mind, and it’s no surprise, because Delany’s run may well be the greatest feat in Irish sporting history. “I remember the intensity of concentration,” says Delany, now 81. “During the race,

Ronnie Delany and Brush Shields, during the Remembrance Run 5k 2015. Picture: Tomas Greally/Sportsfile

you’re focused. You don’t hear the crowd. You’re watching, focusing, monitoring, and if you have the gift to be able to win, you’re going to win.” Delany played a patient game in the final, saving his speed for the home straight, at which point he unleashed a devastating change of gears to leave Australian rival John Landy and the world’s best milers trailing in his wake. “I threw my arms wide in celebration as I went through the victory tape, and kneeled down to say a prayer as a mark of my faith,” says Delany. “You’re almost saying: ‘I don’t believe it, I’ve won the Olympics.’ At 21 years of age, I was going to climb up the rostr um as Oly mpic champion.” It was the feat which would define his career – indeed his life – but truth be told, he felt more fortunate a half century later, when his home city honoured him with the freedom of Dublin. “That’s probably the proudest moment of my life,” he said. “I’m indebted to my city. When your own select you for such an honour, it’s an absolute pleasure. “I love this city, and getting that honour is a renown you enjoy throughout your life.”

D e l a ny w a s a c t u ally born in Arklow, Co Wicklow and moved to Dublin at the age of five. As a result, both counties are understandably keen to claim him as their own. “I can claim dual citizenship,” he says with a laugh. “I had a dilemma back in the 50s. Dublin decided to make me the Dublin man of the year, while Wicklow decided to make me Wicklow man of the year. It required a solemn decision, so I decided I’d take both!” At the age of 19, Delany left Ireland for six years to attend college at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, moulding himself into the world’s best middle distance runner over 3,000 miles from home. “I never had a sense of loneliness,” he says. “My life was extraordinarily full. I took the academic side seriously and the running seriously, and I also had to work.” At a time when he was one of the world’s best athletes – but also an amateur who was unable to take any earnings from the sport – Delany worked a number of different jobs to get by. H e wo r ke d a s a “grease monkey” at a friend’s garage, as a caddy at a local golf course, and as a park-

Ronnie Delany sprinting to gold in the 1500m at the


“That’s way above the Olympics, the happiness I’ve enjoyed in family life. The gift of my children, the gift of my grandchildren, that’s way above anything else.”


ing attendant at a local church. “I’d be out parking cars for midday mass and people there would be papers hot off the press about the guy who ran a world record at Madison Square Garden the night before,” he said. “The people probably didn’t know the guy who set the record was the guy parking their cars.” After winning gold in Melbourne, Delany didn’t get to return home to Dublin along with the rest of the Irish team, but had to hightail it back to Villanova for his end-of-term exams. It was weeks later before he made it back

to the Emerald Isle, landing at Shannon airport and being brought to Dublin by motorcade to be received by the Lord Mayor. Only then did he realise the effect his achievement had on the psyche of the Irish people. “It was celebration after celebration,” he said. “We Irish are great for celebrating; give us an excuse and we’ll do it.” Delany retired from athletics at the relatively youthful age of 26, though for the past six decades, he’s brought back to Melbourne in some small way on a daily basis. “When you have the

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