Ireland and the World of Sports - Vol1. - Dr. Patrick O’Callaghan

As Tokyo 2020 approaches, the IJCC Sports Committee would like to reflect upon and commemorate the contributions made by Irish individuals to the world of sport by introducing a new series of articles to called, ‘Ireland and the World of Sports’. The first article of the series is about Dr. Patrick O’Callaghan.

Dr. Patrick O’Callaghan.

Ireland’s first Olympic gold medal was won by Dr. Patrick (‘Pat’) O’Callaghan at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. Pat was a Corkman, born in 1905 in Derrygallon, Kanturk. He trained as a medical doctor at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and worked for a brief stint with the Royal Air Force. Later on, Pat established himself as a GP in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, and continued in practice there until the late eighties.

Pat entered the 1928 Amsterdam Games as an almost complete unknown but went on to win the hammer throw with a distance of 168 feet 7 inches (51.39m ( The ceremony at which Pat was presented with the gold was the first Olympic medal ceremony where the Irish national anthem ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ was played. In 1932, Pat defended his title at the Los Angeles Games with a throw of 176 feet 11 inches (53.92m (  Pat was prevented from defending his title for a second time at the 1936 Berlin Olympics as Ireland did not participate at the 1936 Games. The International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) suspended the National Athletic and Cycling Association (NACA) of Ireland after it had voted, by a narrow margin, to reject the rule that had been agreed at the 1934 IAAF Congress that ‘the governing athletic organisation of each country (country being interpreted as land under special sovereignty or government, political boundaries being decisive) has the right to membership of the federation’. There was opposition to this boundary rule at the NACA since it allowed for the integration of Northern Ireland as an athletic entity into the structures of the United Kingdom.

In 1937, Pat threw the hammer a distance of 195 feet 5 inches at Fermoy, Co. Cork, which far exceeded the then standing, and first, IAAF world record of 189 feet 6.5 inches. This record distance had been thrown by the Limerick man Patrick J. Ryan at the Eccentric Fireman’s Games in the US in 1913. Pat’s throw at Fermoy was not ratified as a record by the IAAF as the NACA was not sanctioned by the IAAF at the time. Only one man has won more gold medals than Pat in the hammer throw event at the Olympics. 

Limerick-born John Flanaghan won a total of three gold medals for the hammer throw at the Olympics. John won the first of these medals at the 1900 Paris Olympics, the second at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics and then completed the hat-trick at the 1908 London Olympics. All three golds were won for the United States as John had emigrated there in the 1890s. John was one of the “Whales”, the group of Irish-Americans who were pivotal in ensuring that the United States dominated the weight events at the Olympics in the first two decades of the 20th century. John and many of the other Whales worked at the New York Police Department. John retired from the NYPD in 1911 and returned to Limerick to take up farming at Kilbready East, Killmallock. John was also a respected coach and went on to coach Pat O’Callaghan.