Villanova's Irish Olympic Tradition, 1948-1956

For no particular reason, a few days ago I began thinking of the first car I bought after graduating from Villanova in 1966 (a 1962 Chevy) and the man who sold it to me, John Joe Barry, an Irish Olympian from Tipperary who was one of the first Irishmen to enroll at Villanova following the 1948 Olympics. I wondered if he was on the Internet. Of course he is!

Barry sold me that Chevy on a used car lot in Devon, PA. Hearing my Irish accent, we got to talking. He told me he’d considered Villanova, Boston College, and Miami as potential universities and visited the U.S. in December to check them out. He didn’t like Boston (too cold and snowy) or Miami (too hot at Christmas time, although he won the Orange Bowl Mile while down there). Arriving at Villanova, homesick and determined to return to Ireland, he let Jumbo Elliot persuade him to enroll at Villanova and Irish history on campus began to be made. Barry was a delightful guy, very comical, and a fabulous storyteller!

I was a boy in Ireland when Ron Delaney won the "metric mile" at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. It made an incredible impression on the Irish – the first medal credited to the Irish in Olympic history (although earlier Irish athletes had won Olympic medals, Britain received the credit). So I was particularly interested in what Barry had to tell me.

Looking Barry up online, lo and behold there’s a British Pathé film of him winning the mile at a Dublin event in 1949. (There are four events in the link below; a hurdles race, the pole vault, a sprint, and then the mile. Barry doesn’t look as though he has great style; sort of runs with round shoulders, but he’s very strong and you see him running away with the race and posing at the end – the same man who 16 years later sold me my first car.)

John Joe Barry wins mile in Dublin, 1949

But it gets better. Once linked up with Barry, there were other links to the K of C mile in New York City in 1959, a link demonstrating Delaney’s finishing speed on the boards.

Delaney wins K of C mile in New York, 1959

Just to round this out before getting to Delaney’s gold medal, here’s a link to a written tribute Delaney penned to Barry at Barry’s funeral. Delaney credited Barry’s decision to attend Villanova as the influence that persuaded Delaney to enroll on the Main Line.

And now the gold medal: I’ve just never looked for this or seen it before. Here is fabulous color footage of Delaney winning the 1,500 meters in Melbourne in 1956. He wasn’t supposed to win, or even place. The great world record holder John Landy of Australia was practically awarded the gold medal before the Olympics began. But in a tactical race that developed slowly with everyone bunched up through three laps, Delaney, who was 11th out of 12 runners at the gun lap, took off with about 200 meters to go and turned in a spectacular finishing kick that carried him all the way home.

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