Olympics History >> Paris 1900 >> Key Moments

Paris 1900 - Key Moments

Father of the hammer throwing event

Despite the sour taste left in the mouths of those who experienced or participated in the first Olympics of the 20th century, the Paris Games did produce some unforgettable sporting moments.

It took a man originally from County Limerick in Ireland to provide the shine the Games sorely lacked. In doing so, big John Flanagan, who had immigrated to the United States at the age of 28 and was working in New York City, set an Olympic record.

Three consecutive gold medals in the hammer throwing event (1900, 1904, 1908) gave Flanagan something special to add to his already-coveted English and Irish titles, as well as his American titles, won three years in a row (1897, 1898, 1899).

Already the proud, sole holder of the record for throwing past the 50-meter mark, in the dire circumstances that were to engulf an Olympiad that was neither conducive to true competition nor attractive to the spectator, Flanagan provided the purist sports fan something to cheer about.

Policeman guards his gold

The policeman gave notice of his intention to dominate with a throw of 51.11 in a competition prior to the Paris Games. A throw of 49.73 brought Flanagan his first Olympic gold medal in the colors of America, his adopted country.

Following the 1900 Games, Flanagan retained his superiority in the event as American champion, but by the time it came around to competing in St. Louis, Flanagan, born on Jan. 9, 1868, was already 36. In the eyes of many, he was too old, and he increasingly was up against younger competition.

Yet Flanagan's forte was his personalized, and very effective, technique. Turning twice in the circle before releasing the hammer, he was able to compensate for age.

It was this technique that, in 1904 in St. Louis, brought him a second title. He was closely trailed by compatriot John DeWit.

Flanagan also took part in the 56-pound weight throwing event, promptly taking silver with a throw of 10.16.

Digging deep

If the decision to compete at St. Louis had caused Flanagan to reflect on his sporting ability, his American title in 1907 must have given him, at age 39, some extra confidence. Add to that a pre-Olympic throw and new world record of 53.35, and any criticism aimed at the man, obviously an athlete in the prime of his career, was easily discounted.

In 1908, the London bookmakers favored a younger challenger, Flanagan's compatriot Matthew McGrath, whom Flanagan previously had beaten in the national championships. Trailing McGrath and another American, Cornelius Walsh, at the second throw, Flanagan had to dig deep to find something special to surpass a modest throw and potential third place. With his fourth throw, Flanagan came good for second position, much to the anxiety of the young McGrath. Flanagan's final throw was enough to unnerve his younger compatriot, who missed his final attempt, handing the Irish-American his third, and historic, consecutive Olympic title.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.


Moment in Time