Tom O’Riordan, an infectious evangelist for athletics, dies aged 84

The former Olympic runner wrote for many decades on running and Gaelic games

The death has taken place of former Olympic track and field athlete Tom O’Riordan. Tom was readily known throughout Ireland in GAA circles and for many decades as the athletics correspondent of the Irish Independent.

Raised in Ardfert, Co Kerry and proud of it, Tom, known to those who worked with him as “Tommo” and “The Runner”, would have been 85 years old in July.

His colleagues in the media always saw Tom as a hugely infectious evangelist for athletics, which came from a natural enthusiasm and innate ability for the sport that was good enough to earn him a US scholarship at Idaho State University and a ticket to the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, where he competed in the 5,000 metres.

That year in 1964, Tom also embarked on his career in journalism. After one of the seven senior National Cross-Country titles he won, he remembered still wearing his spikes and running gear as he rang in the report of the race he just came first in from a public pay-phone on the course.


Last year with the Olympic Games again taking place in Tokyo, Tom was invited back to the city by the organisers for a commemoration of the ‘64 Olympics but could not make the trip, his son Ian, the athletics correspondent of The Irish Times, making the journey in his place.

Tom also “double-jobbed” a few times when he ran in the World Cross-Country Championships. Speaking in 2017 to his niece, sports journalist Sinead Kissane, he said: “I had to find out who the winners were and the times and the team race and all that. It was a bit of an effort but I managed it. I was never sued for writing the wrong stuff.”

Of another generation, Tom was on first-name terms with all the great athletes of the day including Eamonn Coghlan, John Treacy and Ronnie Delany, as well as the late Kerry footballer Páidí Ó Sé. After his running career, he became team coach for the 1979 World Championships in Limerick, where Ireland won team silver with Treacy retaining the world title.

Some years ago, Tom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but his zest for the glory days of running never fully dimmed before he took a recent turn and passed away on Monday. He leaves a loving family; wife Barbara, sons Ian, Angus and Donal and daughter Karen. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times