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Peter O'Connor

Margaret Aylward Dr Edward Barron Philip Barron Denis Cashman Raymond Chandler Paddy Coad Patrick Comerford Donncha Ruadh Val Doonican Sean Dunne Frank Edwards Alfie Hale John M Hearne William Hobson Dr Thomas Hussey Charles Kean John Keane Edmund Leamy D. P. Moran Gen Dick Mulcahy James Nash Peter O'Connor Jas Louis O'Donnell Pádraig Ó Fainín Gilbert O'Sullivan John Redmond Edmund I Rice James Rice, Mayor Lord Roberts V. C. John Roberts Frank Ryan Thomas Sexton Archbishop Sheehan Susan Smith John Treacy Luke Wadding William V. Wallace Cardinal Wiseman Bullocks Wyse Lucien Bonaparte Wyse



O'Connor's reputation was built on his incredible performances in the jumping events in the years that spanned the turn of the century. He was, by far, the pre-eminent long jumper in the world for that period and his world long jump record was to stand for 20 years. He was born in Ashford, Co.Wicklow, on 18/10/1874, but he lived and worked, as a solicitor, in Waterford City for most of his life. He won his first title in 1899 at the age of 25 years and his last in 1906 - but that was the Olympic title. He was the first IAAF ratified long jump world record holder and his remarkable world, and Irish, long jump record of 24' 11¾" (7.61m), set in Ballsbridge, Dublin on Aug 5th, 1901 lasted for 20 years. This jump was not exceeded until Edward Gourdin of the USA jumped 7.69m in 1921. Even more amazing, this record was not surpassed by an Irishman until Carlos O'Connell finally broke it on June 2, 1990.In that Annus Mirabilis of 1901, he broke the world long jump record 9 times.  He had improved the world record four times in 1900, bettering Myer Prinstein's 7.50m with a jump of 7.51m on August 29. He jumped 7.51m again, then improved it to 7.54m and 7.60m (twice).

Just how far his jump was ahead of its time can be seen by the fact that the first Briton to better it was Lynn Davies with 7.72m on November 26th, 1962, more than 61 years later.

He first competed in athletics in 1896 under G.A.A. rules and in 1899 he won the long jump, high jump and hop, step and jump at the All-Ireland Championships. In 1900 he competed at 20 Athletic meets and, not withstanding some severe handicapping, won 37 firsts, 13 seconds and 11 thirds. He had the following sequence of long jumps in 1900.

Ennis (Munster championship): 23ft. 11ins.
Belfast (Ireland v Scotland): 23ft 5ins
Dublin (RIC Sports): 23ft 11½ins
Tramore, Co.Waterford: 24ft
Buttevant, Co.Cork: 24ft 1ins
Ballinasloe, Co.Galway: 24ft 4½ins
New Ross, Co.Wexford: 24ft 7¾ins

He claimed records for the latter two jumps but, at both places, the ground, on being tested by an engineer, was found to be three inches from being level in a distance of thirty yards. As a consequence the records were not accepted though it was generally admitted that the runways at both venues were more against him than in his favour.

In 1904 and again in 1905 he repeated his wins in the long jump. He tied for first place in 1901 in the high jump under I.A.A.A. rules and he won the long jump in 1900 and 1901.  The measure of O'Connor's greatness can be seen in the calibre of his opponents in those years; men such as the great Tom Kiely of Ballyneale, Carrick-on-Suir, the greatest all-round Irish sportsman of his generation; Pat Leahy of Gregane, Charleville, Co.Cork and Pat's brother Con Leahy, the finest high jumper in Europe, who won titles in Ireland, Britain and America.

It was O'Connor's complete domination of the British athletes that brought him to the notice of the British Olympic selectors. They telegraphed O'Connor in Waterford offering to send him to the Olympic Games in Paris but he unhesitatingly refused the offer. He wanted to represent Ireland and only Ireland. Several more telegrams arrived but to no avail. If he had competed in the 1900 Games he would have been a raging hot favourite to win the gold medal. One month after the Games he broke the world record of Myer Prinstein with a leap of 24' 7¾".

His jumping in 1901 set the world of athletics ablaze on both sides of the Atlantic and it is worth noting that in the five years up to1901 he was unbeaten in the long jump, despite giving away up to three feet to most of his opponents.


May 10th, 1901 De La Salle, Waterford: 24ft
une 29th, 1901 Glasgow: 23ft 9½ins
July6th, 1901, Huddersfield (English Championships): 23ft 8½ins
July 20th,1901, Dublin (DMP Championships): 23ft 11½ins
July 28th, 1901, Annacurra, Co.Wicklow: 24ft 11½ins
Aug 5th, 1901, Ballsbridge, Dublin: 24ft 11¾ins - This was from a board take off and was the first world long jump record that was ratified by the IAAF (in 1913).
Sept 7th, 1901, Buffalo NY: 22ft 8½ins

In 1902 his friends and admirers in Waterford made a presentation to him in Allen's Hotel in Colbeck Street in recognition of his sensational world record jump at Ballsbridge. The presentation took the form of a gold watch and an illuminated address. In his speech to the assembled crowd, O'Connor said; 

The luckiest thing that ever happened to me was to take up residence in Waterford … I had
the advantage of training with those excellent athletes … including E. W. Clyne, J. Curry, Frank Furlong and others. I may indeed, gentlemen, attribute the greater portion of my success in the athletic arena to my having come to live in Waterford.  For years I have been hovering around record figures but bad luck haunted me.  My jumps were always a wee bit short of the mark and, when over the mark as they were on several occasions, the ground failed to stand the test of the spirit level, which is absolutely essential before any credence is given to any jumps. I would have disappeared and chucked athletics altogether, were it not for three reasons, viz.,
1st. The kindness of my employer, Mr. David Dunford, Solicitor, in permitting me to attend all the main athletic meetings in the South of Ireland, in a greater part of Leinster and elsewhere.
2nd. I found splendid facilities in Waterford for training - Waterpark College grounds for the long jump and the Goff track for sprinting. This track is the finest track in Ireland for cycling and sprinting.
3rd. I received every encouragement in the flattering and undeserved articles from the pen of my good and true friend, Mr. Redmond, in his excellent paper - the Waterford News.

The IAAA championships in Cork on Whit Monday 1902 marked a turning point in O'Connor's career. A major row broke out when O'Connor failed to appear at the Championships and the IAAA responded by refusing to select him for the AAA championships. The reason for O'Connors non-appearance was that on the day of the Championships he was attending the funeral of his good friend and fellow athlete, Frank Furlong. The IAAA assumed that O'Connor had boycotted their Championships and they selected Con Leahy in his place. Peter later won the AAA Championships, beating Leahy in the long jump with 23ft 7½ins and also beating him in the high jump with 6ft 2ins.

The Ireland v Scotland match was scheduled for a fortnight later and to mend fences with the IAAA Peter wrote to that body offering to compete for Ireland in both jumps, guaranteeing a win, barring accidents, in both. The IAAA ignored him completely and selected the brothers Leahy to contest the jumps. O'Connor was enraged at this treatment and he actually made his own way to Scotland and demanded that, as the best jumper in Ireland, he should be allowed to compete. The IAAA refused and said that, as he had not competed at Cork in the IAAA Championships, he was ineligible. It is worth noting here that three members of the Irish team had also not competed in Cork. From then on O'Connor ignored the IAAA Championships and concentrated on the AAA Championships. In a letter to the Waterford News, published in their edition of July 15th, 1904, O'Connor gave his version of the split with the IAAA and, in the letter, he confirmed that he had accepted the invitation of the AAA to compete for England in future.

He won the AAA long jump title in 1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905 and 1906 and he added the high jump titles in 1903 and 1904 (tie). He was again selected for Britain in the1904 Games but he did not compete. The reason for his non-participation was never given but in the light of the flag incident in the 1906 Games it is almost certain that his views on nationalism and his desire to compete for Ireland, rather than as a member of a British team, would explain his absence. When he eventually did take part in the Olympic Games, in the Intercalated Games of 1906, he was quite clearly past his best. This was most evident in the long jump in which he could manage only 23' 0½" (7.02m). He held the lead until the very last round and only one man, Myer Prinstein from the USA, with 23ft 7½ins, was good enough to exceed Peter's mark, depriving him of the gold medal.  However the hop, step and jump competition was a different matter. Twenty one athletes from eight nations took part and O'Connor, despite a loose runway was supreme. He started with a leap of 45ft 7ins, improved to 46ft 2ins with his second attempt and with his final jump, took the gold with a leap of 46'2¼" (14.08m). In second place was the great Con Leahy with a leap of 45' 10½" (13.98m).

O'Connor and Leahy were, of course, competing for Great Britain and we can judge how much this rankled with both of them by their action after the medals were presented.  In an incident that has become part of Olympic legend, Leahy and distance runner John Daly stood guard at the base of the pole from which flew the Union Jack while O'Connor climbed to the top of the towering flagpole in Athens and replaced the Union Jack with a green flag. The fact that O'Connor had brought the flag from Ireland for such a purpose shows his confidence of victory. That flag is now held by members of his family in Ireland


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