Harold Connolly (facing) is congratulated after his 1956 Olympic Hammer Throw victory in Melbourne, Australia (Time Life Pictures / Getty Images) © Copyright
Iaaf News

Harold Connolly, 1956 Olympic champion, passes away

The IAAF is saddened by the news that Harold Connolly, the 1956 Olympic champion in the Hammer Throw, passed away yesterday (18).

One of the greatest figures in the history of Hammer Throwing, Connolly was an Olympic champion and World record holder during his competitive career, and a coach, school teacher and athlete mentor later. He was 79. A four-time Olympian, Connolly set six World records in the event between 1956 and 1965.

While at Boston College, Connolly took up the Hammer Throw to strengthen his left arm, which was slightly withered at birth and weakened from injuries in football and wrestling. Connolly went on to win 12 national titles, including nine in the hammer outdoors and three indoors with the 35-pound weight throw.

By 1955, he became the first American to surpass 200 feet, throwing 201' 5". That was just the beginning of his record-setting exploits. He gained his first world record with a throw of 224' 10", shortly before the 1956 Olympics. Wearing ballet shoes to improve his footing in the concrete ring, he beat long-time world record holder Mikhail Krivonosov to win the gold medal in Melbourne.

Besides Melbourne, he also was a member of the 1960, 1964 and 1968 Olympic teams, but it was in 1956 that Connolly grabbed world attention when he met Olga Fikatova, the Olympic women's Discus Throw champion from Czechoslovakia. A romance developed and they were married in October 1957. They divorced in 1975 but a son by that marriage, Jim, later became an outstanding Decathlon competitor at UCLA. Connolly subsequently married the former Pat Winslow, a three-time Olympian in the 800m and Pentathlon. Their youngest son, Adam, carried on his father's tradition, ranking third among U.S. hammer throwers in 1999.

After retiring from competition, Connolly became a schoolteacher, manager of Special Olympics International, and publisher of a web site to promote his event, hammerthrow.org.