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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 it 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, was to set an unprecedented Olympic record.

Three consecutive titles in the hammer-throwing event were to give Flanagan something special to add to his already-coveted English and Irish titles, as well as his USA titles, won three years in a row in 1897, 1898 and 1899.

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

Policeman guards his gold

The policeman gave notice of his intention to dominate with a throw 0f 51.11m in a competition prior to the Paris Games. A throw of 49.73m brought Flanagan his first Olympic gold medal in the colours of America, his adopted country.

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

Yet Flanagan's forte was his personalised, and very effective, technique. Turning twice in the circle before releasing the hammer, he was able to compensate for age with a technique used to habitually-victorious effect.

It was this technique which, during St Louis in 1904, brought him a second title while being trailed closely by compatriot John DeWit, who had shown promise by beating the Olympic record with a throw of 50.26m.

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

Digging deep

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

The London bookmakers were to favour a younger challenger, his compatriot Matthew McGrath, who he had previously beaten in the national championships. Trailing McGrath and compatriot 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, and lay in 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 consecutive and historic Olympic title.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.

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