Harold Connolly, Who Beat Odds in Olympics and Romance, Dies at 79

Mr. Connolly won the hammer throw at the 1956 Olympics despite a withered left arm, and later married the women?s discus champion.


Mr Connolly inspired me to compete and do my best in the event I loved.


Connolly, besided being a hammer legend himself, was considered by some to be part of the the recent improvement of current US junior men’s hammer throwing of Conor McCullough and Walter Henning.

Another legend of the sport leaves us. A sad day. His romance was one of the lovely back stories of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.

Harold Connolly, Who Beat Odds in Olympics and Romance, Dies at 79
Published: August 19, 2010
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CloseLinkedinDiggMixxMySpaceYahoo! BuzzPermalink Harold Connolly, who overcame a withered left arm to win the hammer throw in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and then married the women’s discus champion, Olga Fikotova of Czechoslovakia, after a storybook cold war romance, died Wednesday in Catonsville, Md. He was 79.

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Associated Press
Harold Connolly won a gold medal despite a withered left arm.
Connolly was at his gym doing his regular workout on an exercise bicycle when he passed out, said his second wife, the former Pat Daniels, a three-time American Olympic runner and pentathlete. He apparently hit his head on the concrete floor and died, she said.

Connolly’s left arm was injured during birth, and he fractured it 13 times as a child. His left arm grew to be four and a half inches shorter than his right and his left hand two-thirds the size of his right. As he wrote of his childhood in his unpublished memoirs:

“I began to consider myself a reject, chained to a small army of twisted bodies in the hospital waiting room, and responded by trying to ignore my crippled associates. I wanted to push myself into the ‘normal’ society. I was a handicapped person who knows the agony of all-out trying and not accomplishing. They didn’t treat the disabled with dignity then. I couldn’t stand to be treated differently.”

When he won his Olympic gold medal, photographers yelled at him to raise his arms in triumph. He lifted only his right arm.

In 1991, he told The New York Times: “The thought of being patronized made me sick. I wanted to play by the rules, not rules adapted for me because I was disabled.”

The hammer is a 16-pound metal ball attached to a handle by a chain almost four feet long. The thrower spins three or four times in a ring and flings it. What Connolly lacked in arm strength, he made up for with speed and leg power.

Connolly competed in four Olympics, finishing eighth in 1960 (“Too much pressure,” he said) and sixth in 1964 and not qualifying for the final in 1968. In 1972, he finished fifth in the United States trials and failed to make the team.

In an event in which Americans seldom do well, he broke the world record six times, starting with 218 feet 10 inches in 1956 and ending with 233 feet 9 inches in 1965. Now, with improved training, coaching and technique, the record is more than 284 feet.

Connolly won nine United States titles in the hammer throw and three in the indoor 35-pound weight throw. In 1984, he was elected to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. In the 1956 Olympics, wearing ballet shoes for better footing, he won with a throw of 207-3. Years later, he said: “I was emotionally removed from the scene. I knew my life would never be the same. So I was standing there when the other medalists turned toward the flags for the national anthems. They started playing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and I was stupidly still facing the stands, not the flags. I didn’t even hear the anthem.”

Mikhail Krivonosov of the Soviet Union, the world record holder and silver medalist, put his hand on Connolly’s hip, turned him and saved the day.

Earlier at those Olympics, Connolly met Fikotova. A romance ensued, and the next year he went to Prague and received permission from the Czech president to marry her. They were married in three ceremonies there, with a celebration before 40,000 well-wishers.

They were divorced in 1974. In 1975, he married Daniels, who became the coach of Evelyn Ashford and other outstanding runners.

Besides his wife, Connolly is survived by four children from his first marriage: two sons, Mark, of Las Vegas, and Jim, of Marina del Rey, Calif., and two daughters, Merja Connolly Freund of Corona del Mar, Calif., and Nina Southard of Costa Mesa, Calif.; two children from his second marriage: a son, Adam, of Silver Spring, Md., and a daughter, Shannon Podduturi, of Manhattan; a stepson, Bradley Winslow, of San Jose, Calif.; and five grandchildren.

Jim Connolly was the N.C.A.A. decathlon champion for U.C.L.A. in 1987, and Adam Connolly was America’s third-ranked hammer thrower in 1999.

Harold Vincent Connolly was born Aug. 1, 1931, in Somerville, Mass., and raised in Brighton, Mass. He paid his own way to Boston College, where he was a mediocre shot-putter. When he retrieved hammers in practice and threw them back farther than the hammer throwers had thrown them, he was switched.

He graduated in 1953 and later spent 30 years as a high school teacher and vice principal in Santa Monica, Calif., and 11 years as a Special Olympics executive. After retiring in 1999, he became a traveling coach and salesman for the hammer throw and ran the promotional Web site hammerthrow.org.

In 1983, he wrote in The New York Times that he had used anabolic steroids for many years, before they were illegal. He said he did not know if they had helped his performances. A year after he stopped using them, the 250 pounds on his 6-foot frame had dropped to 203. In later years, he opposed the use of steroids.

“I used to think that each athlete should decide for himself whether to use them,” he said. “Now the drugs are out of hand.”

August 19, 2010
Track and field loses two of its best: Hal Connolly, Scott Davis

Share | By Philip Hersh

The sport of track and field – and the sports world in general – is far poorer today.

Two track and field legends passed away Wednesday.

One, Harold Connolly, was an Olympic champion whose Cold War love story captivated the world in the days long before there were magazines and TV shows with the sole purpose of celebrating celebrity.

The other, Scott Davis, did everything he could as a meet promoter, meet announcer, statistician and raconteur to celebrate his sport and its stars. To those of us in the media, Davis was a bottomless font of knowledge and good cheer.

Connolly, 79, a native of suburban Boston, competed in four Olympics, but 1956 in Melbourne, Australia was the most memorable. Not only did he become the last U.S. hammer thrower to win a gold medal but he also began an OIympic Village romance that led a year later to his marriage to Czech Olga Fikotova, the Olympic discus champion in 1956.

So compelling was their story that it created a break in the Iron Curtain so they could be married in Prague, where some 4,000 people attended the civil ceremony, according to David Wallechinsky’s ``The Complete Book of the Olympics.’’

The idyll ended in a 1973 divorce, after which Connolly married three-time U.S. Olympian Pat Winslow. He went on to become a schoolteacher, manager of Special Olympics International and publisher of a web site to promote his event, hammerthrow.com.

Jim Connolly, his son with Fikotova, was a top decathlete. Adam Connolly, one of his sons with Winslow, was a leading U.S. hammer thrower.

Davis, 67, died at his home in Cerritos, Calif., after a 13-year fight with cancer, a battle in which he prevailed well enough to continue working as promoter of the Mount Sac Relays, a meet announcer and one of the leading statisticians in a statistics-fixated sport. He and his wife, Cheryl, lived in Southern California and had a second home in (where else?), Eugene, Ore., known as ``Track Town USA.’’

``Track and field in the USA has lost its voice,’’ Olympic sprint medalist-turned-TV commentator Ato Boldon said on Facebook.

For years, Davis edited the annual fact book published by the Federation of American Statisticians of Track, an essential resource to anyone who covered track and field.

Even as he was trying to sell copies of the book , later combined into USA Track & Field’s media guide, Davis gave freely of his time, knowledge and good humor to anyone who sought his help – as well as to people who didn’t.

``No one ever left a Scott Davis conversation NOT feeling better than they did before it started,’’ Boldon said.

``It is impossible to truly articulate the loss our beloved sport has experienced,’’ two-time Olympic high jump medalist Dwight Stones, also a TV commentator, said in a Facebook posting.

``Scott cared more about T&F and the promotion / presentation thereof than anyone. Who is able / willing to step up and try to take his place? Who will tell the off-color jokes and then turn around and make the great race call?’’

It is a mark of what Davis meant to the sport over so many years that his passing was mourned on social networking sites by several Olympic generations, from Stones, age 56, to Allyson Felix, age 24.

I knew Scott Davis well. I met Hal Connolly a couple times. That they should be linked in death is both sad and poignantly fitting. Few people ever have given more of their lives to the sport.

And few ever have given it more life.

Photos: Above - Harold Connolly at the 2006 unveiling of a statue in his honor at a middle school in Brighton, Mass., where he grew up. (Connolly family photo); Below - Scott Davis at last month’s World Junior Track & Field Championships in Moncton, N.B., where he was the event announcer. (International Association of Athletics Federations photo).