INDIANAPOLIS – Four-time
Olympian, 1956 Olympic gold medalist and former men’s hammer throw
world record holder Harold Connolly died on Wednesday. He was 79.
Following his triumph at
the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Connolly represented the U.S. in
three subsequent Olympics, finishing eighth in 1960 and sixth in 1964
before failing to qualify for the final in 1968.
Recognized as one of the
greatest hammer throwers in track and field history, Connolly broke the
world record six times, helping to place the U.S. in the forefront of
an event that historically had not been one of the nation’s best.
A graduate of Boston
College, Connolly won 12 national titles, including nine in the hammer
outdoors and three indoors with the 35-pound weight throw. While at
Boston College, Connolly took up the event to strengthen his left arm,
which was slightly withered at birth and weakened from injuries in
football and wrestling.
By 1955, he became the
first American to surpass 200 feet, throwing 61.39m/201-5. That was
just the beginning of his record-setting exploits. He gained his first
world record with a throw of 68.52m/224-10 shortly before the 1956
Wearing ballet shoes to
improve his footing in the concrete ring, he beat long-time world
record holder Mikhail Krivonosov to win the gold medal in Melbourne.
Also in 1956, Connolly grabbed world attention when he met Olga
Fikatova, the Olympic women’s discus champion from Czechoslovakia. A
romance developed and they were married in October 1957. They divorced
in 1975, but a son by that marriage, Jim, later became an outstanding
decathlon competitor at UCLA. Connolly subsequently married the former
Pat Winslow, a three-time Olympian in the 800 meters and pentathlon.
Their youngest son, Adam, carried on his father’s tradition, ranking
third among U.S. hammer throwers in 1999.
After retiring from
competition, Connolly became a schoolteacher, manager of Special
Olympics International, and publisher of a web site to promote his
Connolly coached American
standouts such as Kevin McMahon before turning his attention to
teaching youngsters about hammer throwing, and becoming USATF’s Youth
Hammer Throw Chairman. For the past decade Connolly
conducted clinics across the country advocating the inclusion of hammer
throwing at USATF youth events.
Earlier this year,
Connolly’s USATF Youth Hammer Throw Development Program was awarded a
grant by the USATF Foundation of $7,500 per year for four years that
will support training grants for up-and-coming 13-17 year old youths,
and could also defray travel and room and board costs at a one-week
camp for top male and female throwers. Through these increased efforts
to improve the quality of youth hammer throwing in the U.S., it’s no
coincidence that Americans were victorious in the men’s hammer throw at
the two most recent World Junior Championships, with Walter Henning
winning in 2008, and Conor McCullough capturing gold last month in
Moncton, Canada. Both were mentored by Connolly.