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O’Callaghan and the curious story of the biggest day in Irish sport

On August 1, 1932 the reborn Ireland – it had become independent from the United Kingdom ten years earlier, in 1922 – was experiencing its greatest feat in Olympic sport. In just a few hours she achieved two gold medals, double what he had achieved to date. Robert Tisdall achieved the first, in the 400 meter hurdles test; and later Pat O’Callaghan prevailed in the hammer throw.

The same Pat O’Callaghan who had won the first gold for the country. The same Pat O’Callaghan who would live a curious sports career. The same Pat O’Callaghan who would reject the role of Tarzan in the movies. The same Pat O’Callaghan who has been, since then, an eternal idol of Irish sport.

The hammer tradition

Patrick “Pat” O’Callaghan was born in Kanturk, Ireland, on September 15, 1905. From a young age he excelled in various sports, being gaelic football in which it shines the most.

But the hammer throw would be the sport for which he would end up opting. A sport that he would discover, as he himself would admitby chanceand that would dazzle you from the first moment.

And no wonder. At that time there was a great tradition of hurling in Ireland. Tradition that the United States would take advantage of. Because the great reputation of the Irish in this modality was achieved thanks to the so-called ‘Irish Whales’ (Irish Whales), a group of Irish athletes who represented the United States – and Canada – in the early 20th century in the hammer, shot put, or discus. Together they won 10 gold medals, five silver medals and three bronze medals at the Olympic Games.

Matthew McGrath, Cornelius Walsh and Frederick Tootell are just a few of the names of Americans from Ireland who have won Olympic medals in the hammer throw. Although undoubtedly the most prolific was John Flanaganthe first athlete to win the gold medal in three consecutive Olympic Games (1900, 1904 and 1908).

The first Irish gold

O’Callaghan’s beginnings as a pitcher they were not easy. Given the lack of material, he had to figure out how to practice and be accepted into the training team.

“I didn’t have a hammer, so I took a cannonball, punched a hole in it, put a handle and wire on it, and started training on my farm. And when I saw it was going decent distances, I went back and asked to be included,” he would say. .

Just a few months later, in 1927, it was proclaimed national champion in modality. Title that he retained the following year, which earned him to be cited for the Amsterdam Olympic Games in 1928.

Some Games for which he did not arrive with great expectations, but in which he ended up surprising everyone. With a final devastating throw, he went beyond 51 meters, which allowed him win the gold medal.

Was the first gold medal in Irish history, independent only six years earlier. He was not the first Irish Olympic champion – five Americans born in Gaelic lands had previously achieved it – but he was the first to defend his flag.

“I am very happy and proud of my victory, but not only for the victory itself, but for the fact that the whole world has seen that there is an Irish flag, that Ireland has a national anthem, and that in fact we have a nationality”.

A success, that of Amsterdam 1928, which he would repeat four years later, in Los Angeles. Although before reaching the Olympic event, Pat O’Callaghan would win several national championships in other modalities such as shot put, discus throw, or long jump, which denotes its great multidisciplinary capacity.

Victory at the Los Angeles Olympics would come August 1. A date marked by fire in the sporting history of Ireland.

In the morning, the athlete Robert Tisdall He prevailed in the 400 meter hurdles event, with a time of 51.8 seconds (world record at the time), beating the locals Glenn Hardin and Morgan Taylor.

In the afternoon, Pat O’Callaghan claimed victory in the hammer throw, with a throw of 53 meters and 92 centimeters.

In just a few hours, the country had won more gold medals than in its entire (short) history. Since then, it has only been repeated or exceeded twice: at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, where a dazzling Michelle Smith would win three gold medals in swimming; and in the recent Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Ireland would also add two golds.

An image for posterity

The two Irish gold medalists would leave an image, a story, in Los Angeles for the eternity of Olympism.

After celebrating his victory, Tisdall stayed to watch his compatriot’s competition. And he observed how from the beginning had difficulty casting. The problem was that, accustomed to doing it from a grass or clay surface, the Irishman did not adapt to the surface of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which was made of ash.

Tisdall approached O’Callaghan, and between the two of them they decided that the best solution was cut the toes of boots what did he wear With an improvised saw they got to work and, after adapting his shoes, O’Callaghan now achieved the throw that would earn him the gold medal.

The Man Who Could Be Tarzan

After that brilliant victory, which earned him great fame in Los Angeles, Pat O’Callaghan would be invited by Metro Goldwyn Mayer to a tour of his studios. And at that precise moment they offered him the role of a movie that was about to be shot: Tarzan of the Apes.

But Pat O’Callaghan turned it down. She considered that this life was not made for him. That he should focus on sports and his career as a doctor.

Probably, having accepted that role, today O’Callaghan would be much more recognized worldwide -as would happen with Johnny Weissmüller-, and his sports records would have achieved greater significance.

a bitter end

Be that as it may, O’Callaghan focused on continuing his sports career, with the goal set at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. repeat victorythus chaining three golds in three consecutive Olympic editions.

A belief that they also shared in Germany. So much so that the Nazi government, in its obsession with achieving the best possible results, decided to send a cameraman to record O’Callaghan’s throwing technique. They even invited him to Hamburg on one occasion to see him up close. They wanted to know why it was so goodwith the intention that some German athlete could approach him and, in this way, be able to fight for victory in the Berlin Olympic Games.

A medal for which finally couldn’t fight Pat O’Callaghan. A conflict between the Irish and British federations finally caused Ireland to decline to attend the Games.

O’Callaghan traveled to Berlin, and from the stands watched as a German, Karl Hein, took gold with a shot from a shorter distance than O’Callaghan had only a few weeks before, and with a technique based on the one he had used till the date. The one the Germans had copied. The one he dominated like no one else.

After that, Pat O’Callaghan retired, and spent the rest of his days – except for a brief period in the United States – in Clonmel, where he would die on December 1, 1991.

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