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Olympic Flashback: The Irish Whales

Updated: Wednesday, 25 Jul 2012 15:37 | Comments

John Flanagan trains for the 1908 London Olympics. He went on to win the gold medal
John Flanagan trains for the 1908 London Olympics. He went on to win the gold medal

During the early years of the hammer, Irish-Americans dominated the sport. These men were known as The Irish Whales due to their impressive size and physiques.

The original Whale was James Mitchell - known as The Father. Mitchell dominated the sport for ten years, setting the world record at 145ft 0.75’ in New York in 1892.

John Flanagan, another Irish emigrant, took over the world record from Mitchell in 1897. He threw 150ft 8’.

Flanagan went on to take the sport to never before seen levels, breaking the 160ft, 170ft and 180ft barriers. His best throw was 184ft 4’, thrown at the age of 36 in New Haven, Conneticut in 1909.

Flanagan won the hammer at the Olympics in 1900 (Paris), 1904 (St Louis) and 1908 (London). He used a jump turn and the method of throwing became a blue print for his successors to follow.

Matt McGrath (born in Tipperary) and Pat Ryan (born in Limerick) took over from Flanagan as the next Irish Whales. They fought for titles by throwing distances far ahead of their contemporaries.

McGrath battled with Flanagan for the world record, and for some months in 1907 and 1908 McGrath relived Flanagan of that record. However, except for that interlude Flanagan held the WR for some 16 years.

McGrath emerged with a throw of 158ft8’ in 1906 and competed in four Olympic Games. Such was his longevity in the sport that he was still throwing distances of 170ft at the age of 46.

He ended Flanagan’s hold on the world record in 1911, with a throw of 187ft 4’. McGrath won Olympic gold in 1912 (Stockholm), and Olympic silver in 1908 and 1924 (Paris).

Ryan then took over the mantle and set a new world record two years later, throwing, 189ft 6’. That record stood for 25 years. Ryan won Olympic gold in 1920 (Antwerp).

The standard of throwing briefly declined in the 1920s, but was brought back to life by an Irishman - Pat O’Callaghan.

O’Callaghan, throwing for Ireland this time, not the United States, won Olympic gold in 1928 (Amsterdam) and 1932 (Los Angeles).

In 1937, O’Callaghan threw 195ft 4’. However, at the time he was a member of the NCAA. That association was not recognised by the IAAF and the throw could not be submitted for ratification.

The current hammer world record holder is Yuriy Sedykh. He threw 284ft 7’ in 1986 for the Soviet Union at the European Championships, Stuttgart, Germany. Records are recorded now in metres and Sedykh’s throw converts to 86.74m. Ryan’s world record throw was 57.77m.

Read more about Pat O'Callaghan's first Olympic gold here. And find out more about his second success here.

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USA 45 27 30 102
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