Ireland's O’Callaghan hammers home the advantage

Irish rugby player Pat O’Callaghan embodied the amateur, self-starting spirit which led to hammer success in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam.

He learnt the discipline using his own home-made hammer and ended up winning the sport’s biggest accolade borrowing someone else’s. O’Callaghan was born in 1905 and was raised in a family steeped in the traditional sporting arenas of the Irish – Gaelic football, hurling and rugby. He and his two brothers excelled in a variety of sports at school and university, yet in specialising in the hammer O’Callaghan had to overcome a number of prejudices against adopting a sport outside Ireland’s holy trinity.

Yet specialise he did and thanks to the practice using the hammer he had made himself using a shot filled with ball bearings attached to a bicycle pedal he booked his place at the 1928 Games. He and his brothers paid their own way to Amsterdam, and yet O’Callaghan was not expected to prevail in an event where the Americans had dominated. It was actually British thrower Malcolm Noakes who was favoured to win gold but O’Callaghan, sporting a more agile, athletic frame than many of his burlier rivals, rose to the occasion.

He qualified for the final in sixth and was trailing in the early rounds before he decided to ask the leader Oissian Skiold if he could use his hammer. The Irishman, his face a picture of focus, sent the hammer flying out to168ft 7 inches, or 51.39m, and the gold was his.

It was an emotional occasion for the Irish nation, as it was the first time they had won gold since independence from the British in 1921 and hence the first time their new national - Amhrán na bhFiann – had sounded out over the Olympic arena. O’Callaghan would defend his title in Los Angeles four years later. He died in 1991.