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History of Patrick RYAN Olympic Gold Medalist 1920

by David Guiney and Bill Dooley
“Paddy” Ryan, born on 4 January 1887 in Pallasgreen, County Limerick, Ireland, won
his first Irish hammer title in 1902 when, as a virtual novice, he beat the great Tom Kiely for
the championship. In 1910, Ryan emigrated to America and, after placing third in the hammer
at the 1911 AAU meet, improved to take second place in 1912 before taking his first AAU
title in 1913. Apart from 1918, when he was in France with the American Expeditionary
Forces, he then won the hammer title up to 1921, when he retired.
Ryan was not eligible to represent the U.S. at the 1912 Olympics, but the following
year, at the 1913 Eccentric Fireman’s Games (17 August 1913) he set the first official IAAF
world record with a throw of 57.77 metres (189’6½”), which was to remain a world record
for more than 25 years and was not beaten as a U.S. record until 1953.
Ryan, in his hey-day, was endowed with a magnificent frame, his build, from the
knees up, depicting a strength in every line and course while, in addition to this, he was gifted
with a pair of small and shapely feet which would do credit to a ballet dancer - a rare
In 1920, Paddy Ryan won the Olympic title by the widest margin on record, beating
Carl Lindh of Sweden by almost 4½ metres (14½ feet). At the time of the Antwerp
Olympics, he was 37 years old and his 1.91 metres (6’3”) was carrying a great deal of
excess avoirdupois, his weight being somewhere in the region of 18-19 stone (115-120 kg.
[250-265 lbs.]).
Imbibing rather freely of French and Belgian wines the night before the hammer throw,
he greeted Lawson Robertson, the American coach, who called him on the morning of the
great day with the rather discouraging remark . . . “I’m dying.”
The one and only Lawson knew that if he could get Paddy to the Stadium, the latter
would do the rest and with certain admonitions, sent him on his way. But Paddy needed a
helping of “Irish” or “Scotch” to counteract the effects of the weaker vintages and made for
the first available saloon in which he and another member of the American team tarried a little
longer than they had first intended.
In a last-minute rush for the Stadium Ryan halted a lorry in the streets of Antwerp and
sitting in the tail with his legs dangling out, drove in state to the scene of action. Arriving
there, Paddy discovered he had forgotten his shoes and sent his comrade to the dressing room
for the loan of a pair with good spikes in the heels.
Those were forthcoming and Paddy marched on the ground where a few flags were
already fluttering in the breeze to denote the distances attained by the other aspirants for the
hammer crown, in the early rounds.
Paddy’s next request was one of the most extraordinary. . . “Young fellow . . . would
you mind standing a few yards beyond the best mark. I want to use you as a target for I can’t
see those flags.”
Of note, Ryan did not participate at the Inter-Allied Games of 1919 which were an international sporting contest
among members of the expeditionary forces which had fought in Europe during World War I.
Ryan was always known as “Paddy” and never “Pat.”
His closest friend in Antwerp was John B. Kelly Paddy was always a beer or Guinness drinker. I remember he said once to me, “I wouldn’t wash my feet in Scotch whiskey.”
Ryan wore a pair of baggy trousers and a cap, too small for him, hung at a rakish angle
and in this quaint garb, his appearance was described as positively mountainous.
cap aside and slipping the suspenders
Throwing the he laid hold of the hammer and forced his living
target to duck with a throw of over 173’ (to be precise 52.875 metres, or 173’5¾”) which
won him the Olympic gold medal.
Ryan also competed in the 56-lb. weight throw at the 1920 Olympics, in which he
finished second to Pat McDonald. While in New York, Ryan worked as a labor foreman, but
in 1924 he returned to Eire to take over the family farm and remained there until his death on
13 February 1964 in County Limerick.
(Extracted from an article on Paddy Ryan by the late Bill Dooley, probably written in
the late 1930s or early 1940s, with notes provided by Dave Guiney. Supplemented with
biographical notes from Quest for Gold: The Encyclopaedia of American Olympians, Bill
Mallon and Ian Buchanan [New York, Leisure, 1984])
Pictures of Paddy Ryan at Antwerp show him in U.S. singlet and shorts (admittedly “baggy” ones) and there is
no trace of suspenders.
In my own interviews with Paddy about Antwerp in 1920, his major story was always about how he managed to
get Tom Nicolson (British), an old friend, into the final six in the hammer final. Nicolson had arrived late
for the preliminaries and Paddy staged a minor ‘revolt” to get Tom included in the final six without

Owner of originalBill Dooley
DateLate 1930s or early 1940s
Linked toPatrick RYAN; Patrick RYAN

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