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ULTIMATE TRIUMPH: THE OLYMPIC 1,500
Ron Delany
January 29, 1968
The years of learning, of training, of agony and ecstasy came to a glorious peak at the Melbourne Games when Delany swept to victory
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January 29, 1968

Ultimate Triumph: The Olympic 1,500

The years of learning, of training, of agony and ecstasy came to a glorious peak at the Melbourne Games when Delany swept to victory

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The heats of the 1,500 meters were held on Thursday, but qualifying for the final turned out to be a mere formality. The first four in each of the three heats went on to the final on Saturday. I strolled home in third place in my heat comfortably behind Merv Lincoln of Australia and Ken Wood of Great Britain, with the much favored Tabori of Hungary in the fourth spot. The other qualifiers were Landy, Nielsen, Hewson, Ian Boyd, Klaus Richtzenhain, Neville Scott, Murray Halberg and Stanislav Jungwirth. Rozsavolgyi, the world record holder, was eliminated along with Joseph Barthel, the defending Olympic champion; Dan Waern, the greatest Swedish runner since Gunder Hägg; the Germans, Günther Dohrow and Siegfried Herrmann; and all three American contestants. Jim Bailey of Australia scratched from his heat.

The final was wide open despite Landy's position as favorite. There were four other four-minute milers in the field beside myself—Landy, Hewson, Tabori and Nielsen—and I was younger than any of them. Halberg and Scott of New Zealand were comparatively inexperienced. Lincoln of Australia had probably run too fast in winning his heat. Richtzenhain of Germany and Jungwirth of Czechoslovakia were unknown quantities. Of the two other Britons in the race, Wood was considered a dark horse, but Boyd hardly seemed up to the class of the race.

Friday was spent resting and relaxing as far as possible under the trying circumstances. Every moment my mind was turning over analyzing my opponents. It was virtually impossible to decide on the form of the field. Finally I settled to my own satisfaction that Landy was still my greatest threat, with Hewson the next most likely to succeed in beating me to my life's ambition. I also considered the possibility of an outsider of the inspired sort who suddenly appears in Olympic finals and performs way above himself, running off with the laurels. It was this sort of inspiration I was hoping for myself.

The day I had lived for dawned bright and warm. It was difficult to remain calm but I tried as best I could, for I knew every moment of anxiety used up valuable energy. I resigned myself quietly to the will of God and prayed not so much for victory but the grace to run up to my capabilities. When I arrived at Olympic Stadium I immediately went to the warm-up area for the "roll call" and to prepare for my race. One of the first people I met was Charlie Jenkins and in spite of the seriousness of the occasion for me he could not restrain himself from bursting into laughter when he saw the anxiety written all over my face. I'll always remember what he said to me: "Man, I know what you're going through. I'm sure glad my ordeal is over." He could well laugh with his Olympic gold medal already secured and with the possibility of another before him in the 1,600-meter relay final later in the day.

Before I fully realized it, the race was called and we were marched single file through a dark tunnel out into the sudden glaring brightness of the Olympic oval before 100,000 partisan fans ready to cheer on their hero, John Landy. Yet, as we moved across the stadium toward the starting area, John came over to me and wished me good luck. It was typical of this great sportsman.

It is funny how even in life's most serious moments one cannot help being amused by some little detail: the three British athletes were moving around as if they were glued together, all ashen-faced and looking as if they were going to the gallows rather than the starting line. I remember reprimanding myself and thinking I would not be so amused if one of these Englishmen were ahead of me at the finish.

There was one false start; we were lined up again; the pistol fired and the Olympic 1,500-meter final was on. In a crowded field of 12 one had to avoid trouble and I did this by running at the back of the pack. After 400 meters in 58.9, Halberg was leading, with Hewson nicely placed and a bunched field right behind. Lincoln took the lead at the 800-meter mark in 2:00.3, with his compatriot Landy last and myself just in front of him. At the bell the entire field was fantastically gathered within a mere six yards. Lincoln, Hewson and Richtzenhain was the order of the leaders. I was back in 10th place but I was very much in touch with the leaders, for the pace at this stage of the race was not troubling me. I knew I could not afford to allow anyone to break into a lead at this vital stage of the race so I moved out wide to allow myself a clear run about 350 yards from the finish. As we went down the backstretch for the last time Hewson was forging away in the lead. Suddenly Landy sprinted and I reacted immediately, slipping into his wake and following him as we passed the struggling figures of the other competitors. I knew if I were to win I would have to make one and only one decisive move. I restrained myself as long as possible, and about 150 yards from the finish I opened up with everything I had. Within 10 yards I was in the lead and going away from the field. I knew nobody was going to pass me, for my legs were pumping like pistons, tired but not going to give in to anybody. My heart swelled with joy as I approached the tape 10 feet clear of the rest of the field, and as I burst through I threw my arms wide in exultation. I could hardly believe I had won. My eyes swelled with tears, and I dropped to my knees in a prayer of thanksgiving. John Landy, who finished third, came over to me, helped me to my feet and warmly congratulated me. The Australian crowd was showing its sportsmanship by generously applauding me.

It was the happiest day of my life. I had set out to win the Olympic 1,500-meter crown, and with the help of Jumbo Elliott I had achieved my goal. The rest of my athletic career would always be a sort of anticlimax. I was plagued by injuries later on and I never again had the same driving ambition. But on that day in Melbourne I was grateful to so many people—my parents, my early coaches in Ireland, Jumbo and John Landy—who had inspired me with confidence and example.

From now on I was an Olympic champion. To this very day the aftereffects linger on. Whether it is New York, London, Paris or Dublin, I enjoy the friendship and the welcome of athletes and officials alike. I have long since retired from active participation but I find that every sports fraternity I encounter renders me respect because I am an Olympic champion. It is as if you are a living part of history. One can break world records, as I did in my time, and they are forgotten. But when you win an Olympic title you live on as part of the sport after you retire from active competition. There are responsibilities to live up to also. I am always conscious of the need to give youth good example by word and action. I believe as an Olympic champion I should keep in good physical trim—I don't want to hear someone remark about me one day, "See that fat slob over there? He won the Olympics way back in 1956." And the answer, "No, not him. You're kidding me."

A great subject of debate in Ireland even to this day is, "Would Delany have won the Olympics if he had not gone to Villanova?" I think I can answer that question once and for all. There is no doubt in my mind that I would not have won an Olympic title if I had remained in Ireland. I benefited and developed under the expert tuition of Jumbo Elliott. I learned tactical sense from my many skirmishes on the board tracks. And above all I competed against the best competition available week after week, year after year, throughout the U.S., whether it was a native son like Tom Courtney or a foreign import like John Landy.

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