Ronnie Delany was just 21 when he breasted the tape to win the Olympic 1500m gold medal in Melbourne on December 1, 1956, but he had already gained a maturity and confidence beyond his years.
Victory in that Olympic final was the realisation of a dream that was sown many years previously. The young Ronnie dabbled in many sports but he discovered his greatest talent was in athletics. “I discovered that I had a great talent in my 18th year, when I broke two minutes for the half mile. I did this in a senior race and suddenly here I was, just a boy, beating men, “ Delany recalls.
Villanova University beckoned and his athletics career took on a new dimension when Ronnie teamed up with the legendary coach, Jumbo Elliott. He had also received excellent coaching at Crusaders Athletic Club in Dublin where another coaching legend, the late Jack Sweeney was in residence.
But for Jumbo Elliott’s influence, Ronnie Delany might never have competed in the Olympic 1,500m as he had been essentially a half miler up to then.
“It was on Jumbo’s insistence that I ran a mile in Dublin in the summer of 1955,” he recalls. “I ran 4.05 on wet grass in College Park, and on returning to Villanova Jumbo began to groom me for the Olympic 1,500m.”
In Melbourne, Delany easily qualified for the 1500m final. The field was still bunched as they hit the bell and the final lap of the Olympic 1500m. A blanket could have covered the contenders at that point. Ronnie Delany was at the rear of the field but was not worried about his position. “My task was merely to stay in contact and to be very much in touch at the bell, “ he said. “I then planned to be a position to make the decisive break that would take me clear to the tape.”
With just 180 metres to run, Delany made his decisive move. His natural speed carried him clear to breast the tape in a new Olympic record of 3.41.2. When he crossed the finish line with arms outstretched, Delany sank to his knees for a few private moments of prayer.
“Religion played an integral part in my life and still does,” he said. I did resort to prayer for comfort, to create confidence and assurance and I always prayed intensely before my races that I would receive the ability to perform to my level of capability.”
In Melbourne in 1956, Ronnie Delany fulfilled his ultimate ambition. His Olympic victory remains one of the greatest of Irish sporting achievements.
Delany, whose brilliant athletics career included an unbroken string of 40 indoor victories and a several indoor world records, remains as unassuming but totally positive as he was on that famous day in 1956 under the Australian sky.