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Ronald Michael Delany, the 21-year-old Villanova University commerce and finance student who beat the best milers in the world in the Olympic 1,500 meters, flew home to Ireland for the Christmas holidays, and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED sent me along to see what kind of a hero's welcome the old country would give him.
I told Jim Cahill, the TWA man, as we stood waiting at the check-in counter at Idlewild Airport in New York, that I had never met Ronnie, and Cahill said he hadn't either. But then we both recognized him from his pictures as he came hurrying through the crowd. Wearing a duffel coat and carrying a tweed topcoat, he looked very tall and very thin and very Irish with his black, tousled hair and his high color and his blue eyes and his sharply angular face that became actually handsome when he smiled. And he was smiling in a minute at the girl who had just told him there would be a charge for overweight.
"Ah," laughed Ronnie softly, "a nice girl like you wouldn't be charging me, now would you, for a little overweight when I've flown all around the world with TWA?"
It didn't work (although the girl couldn't help smiling), and as Ronnie reached for his wallet, Jim Cahill moved over and introduced himself and then said, "Did you know there's a writer going with you?"
Jim Cahill leaned over and whispered, "He's right behind you."
"Oh, oh," exclaimed Ronnie, drawing his coat collar up in embarrassment. Then he turned quickly around with his winning smile and put out his hand.
"I'm very glad to meet you," he said, "and I'm just sorry I'm the cause of taking you away from home at Christmas time."
I waited until we were well out over the sea to tell Ronnie that I had no intention of interviewing him in a pressman's usual way, but was simply going along to observe the celebration. Then, in an offhand way, I confided that I myself was the son of a County Clare man.
Soon we were talking away at a great rate (I was getting more Irish by the minute), and Ronnie was reaching up in the luggage rack and taking down a toy kangaroo he had brought from Australia for his girl friend and childhood sweetheart, Elisabeth MacArthur. Before we knew it, we were over Shannon Airport, 2� hours ahead of schedule, thanks to a solid tailwind.