Friday, June 21, 2013

Thomas F Kiely...Olympic Champion 1904

Thomas Francis Kiely was born in 1869 in Ballyneale near the small town of Carrickon-Siur, County Tipperary, to a farming family. Being 6 ft. 2 inches (1:88 metres) tall, and weighing between 13 and 14 stone (82.5 - 88 kg), he started to compete in athletics at the age of 19, and excelled as a weight-thrower, jumper, and hurdler, By 1892, Kiely proved his ability by first winning the All-round Championship of Ireland, and a month later he won no less than seven national titles at the GAA Championships, beating among others Dan Shanahan (the world record holder) in the hop, step and jump, with a mark of 49 feet 7 inches (15.02 metres), a distance which was not exceeded in Olympic competition until 1924.

Over a long career, he won at least seventy (70) Irish and British championships and set world records for the 56 lb. weight and hammer throws - he was the first man to throw the hammer more than 160 feet (48.8 metres). Kiely won the (English) AAA hammer championship for five of the six years 1897 - 1902, losing only in 1900 to the great John Flanagan.

By the time of the Third Olympic Games in St.Louis in 1904, Kiely was 34 years of age, but was still the dominant all-round athlete in Ireland. He received an invitation to compete in St. Louis from the Irish-American Athletic Club and this invitation was widely reported in Irish newspapers. This came to the notice of the AAA, who offered to pay all his expenses if he competed as a member of the United Kingdom team. As an Irish nationalist, Tom Kiely declined both those offers and said that he would compete “for Tipperary and Ireland”. He sold some of the many prizes he had won and raised the fare.

In St. Louis, Kiely won the All-round event, a precursor of the decathlon with ten events held on one day, which happened to be Independence Day in the United States (July 4th, 1904).

After a long and active life, and having raised a family of three sons and five daughters, Thomas F. Kiely died in 1951.

(Excerpts from an article by Séamus Ware, 1999)

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