Positivity and gratitude were the two strong messages imparted by legendary Irish Olympian Ronnie Delany when he received the inaugural Olympic Council of Ireland ‘Hall of Fame’ award in early 2018.
OCI President Sarah Keane presented him with a specially commissioned medal to mark the occasion and, in an impromptu Q&A between them, he shared the wisdom gleaned from a life in which he not only excelled at middle-distance running but also business.
The first Irish schoolboy to break the two-minute barrier for the half mile – in College Park in August 1953 – Mr Delany went on to become not only one of Ireland’s greatest but most revered sportsmen.
A hugely versatile athlete – he ran, swam, and played tennis and cricket in his youth – he told the rapt OCI audience that his best advice to young athletes today is to be positive and passionate about their sport, ahead of the singular pursuit of medals.
He also stressed the importance of remaining grateful to one’s place, club and country.
Mr Delany is indelibly remembered for winning Ireland’s first Olympic gold in a marvellous 1500m final in Melbourne 1956 but the audience was awed to hear of his stellar status in US athletics’ circles at that time, which started during his studies (economics) at Villanova University.
He particularly loved the tactical challenge and intimacy of racing the boards and won an unprecedented 40 straight indoor victories in America between 1956-1950, including 33 mile races. He was also the world mile record holder from 1958 to 1962 and Ireland’s first European Championship medallist (1500m bronze in Stockholm, 1958).
Injury so badly disrupted his preparations for Rome 1960 so when he ran there in late August it was his first-time racing since March 1959.
When he failed to qualify for the 800m final he withdrew from the 1500m, knowing he could not defend his Olympic title. “It never occurred to me to consider running for a placing,” he would say, testament to the steely competitor hidden by his always gentlemanly demeanour.
Three weeks later he was actually second to the new Olympic 800m champion Peter Snell over 880 yards in Santry, where he also finished ahead of Rome’s 1500m champion Herb Elliot.
Repetitive injuries saw Mr Delany retire remarkably early, aged just 26, in 1962 on the same day that he announced his engagement to his beloved wife Joan (Riordan).
They had four children and he told the enthralled OCI audience that he regards his family and his many grandchildren, not his Olympic gold, as the greatest achievement of his life.
Mr Delany recently celebrated his 83rd birthday and still maintains a disciplined daily routine of exercising both his body and mind, which helps explain his continued and great vigour for life which so impressed all who had the privilege of hearing him speak on this very special occasion.