Athletics pioneer Jimmy Reardon dies aged 93

400-metre sprinter was the first of many Irish athletes to attend Villanova University

Jimmy Reardon in 1948: his 400m best of 47.6 would have won him a bronze medal at the 2018 Irish championships, 70 years after he ran it.

Jimmy Reardon in 1948: his 400m best of 47.6 would have won him a bronze medal at the 2018 Irish championships, 70 years after he ran it.

 

“We could sure use you guys at Villanova” – the famous words spoken to Ireland’s first US scholarship athlete, Jimmy Reardon, who passed away on Thursday afternoon in a Dublin hospital at age 93.

It was suggested by George Guida, a chapter in the history of Irish sport told many times, after Reardon, a 400-metre sprinter, along with thrower Cummin Clancy and miler John Joe Barry, got chatting to two American athletes, Guida and Browning Ross, at the 1948 Olympics in London.

Guida and Ross were both on scholarship at Villanova and reckoned their coach Jumbo Elliott would snap up of some Irish services, which he did.

That same October of 1948, Reardon packed up all his belongings and left the old bus on North Bull Island in Dublin Bay which he called home, and moved with his young wife to Villanova University, the small rural-like campus 12 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

So began another journey which is still continuing 71 years later and remains one of the most lasting influences in Irish sport. Reardon was the first to travel, followed by Clancy and Barry, too late to enrol for the first semester but all three were full-time Villanova student-athletes by 1949, and all three graduated together in 1953.

Jimmy Reardon at Farmleigh House during a special luncheon organised by the Olympic Council of Ireland in 2012. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Jimmy Reardon at Farmleigh House during a special luncheon organised by the Olympic Council of Ireland in 2012. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Ronnie Delany came soon after and won the Olympic 1,500 metres in 1956 during his second year at Villanova, and the Irish pipeline, as it became known, has been kept going in the seven uninterrupted decades since. Noel Carroll and Frank Murphy in the 1960s; Donie Walsh, John Hartnett and Eamonn Coghlan in the 1970s; Marcus O’Sullivan, Gerry O’Reilly and Olive Burke in the 1980s; Sonia O’Sullivan, Aidan O’Regan and Ken Nason in the 1990s;

Born in October 1925, his 400m best of 47.6 would have won him a bronze medal at the 2018 Irish championships, 70 years after he ran it.

With the look of a 1940s matinee idol, he carved out his own post-running career in America before returning home in the 1980s. Last October his two daughters Deborah and Kathy were back from America to help him celebrate his 93rd birthday at Leopardstown Park Hospital in south Dublin.

In a statement, President Michael D Higgins said: “It is with sadness that I have learned of the death of Jimmy Reardon, Olympian and sporting pioneer.

“Not only was Jimmy Reardon one of 83 Irish representatives at the first post-War Olympics in London in 1948, he was also the first Irish athlete to attend Villanova University on an athletics scholarship, beginning an ‘Irish Pipeline’ of promising athletes that travelled to the United States to develop their talents.

“Achieving personal bests that would still be hard to beat today, Jimmy Reardon blazed a trail for Irish athletes, and for that not only athletes, their families and supporters, but the Irish people owe him a debt of gratitude.

“Mar Uachtarán na hÉireann, as President of Ireland, I express my deepest sympathies to his family, friends and former colleagues.”

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