Irish Olympian John Lawlor dies aged 84
A giant of Irish hammer throwing, he finished fourth in 1960 Olympics in Rome
Irish Olympian John Lawlor, who finished fourth in the Rome games in 1960, has died aged 84. Photograph: Boston University Athletics
The death has taken place of John Lawlor, one of the giants of Irish hammer throwing who finished fourth in the 1960 Olympics in Rome. Aged 84, he also competed in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and while on scholarship in Boston University set a college record for 27 consecutive victories in the hammer.
In early 1960 he set an Irish hammer record of 65.18 metres, which stood for many years after, and later that year Lawlor came within a metre of making the medal podium in Rome, and thus following in the footsteps of Dr Pat O’Callaghan, who won the Olympic gold in the hammer in 1928, the first for the Irish Free State, and again in 1932.
Unfortunately Lawlor’s competitor bus got stuck in traffic on the way to Rome’s Olympic Stadium, and he only had a few minutes for two warm-up throws: undeterred, he threw 64.95m in the fourth round, .69m short of bronze.
He missed out on a place for the final in Tokyo in 1964, clearly below his best, but found considerable success elsewhere, winning the British AAA hammer title in 1961, while at Boston University, he was a three-time All-American, and NCAA record holder and champion in 1959 and 1960.
“He was a giant of a man in many ways,” said Philip Conway, the famed Irish throwing coach who also represented Ireland in the shot put at the 1972 Olympics.
“John was a connection with the past performance of Irish hammer athletes and a supporter of the future. That means many things; he had many guys to his house over the years, that would have thrown, and he invested in money in athletes. He put his shoulder to the wheel.”
Lawlor’s throwing career began relatively late, after attending St Joseph’s in Fairview in Dublin, then joining the Garda Síochána: he won his first Irish title in 1955, with Civil Service AC, and that got him his ticket to Boston University, where he studied geology. His wife Kathleen (nee Kingston) was a mathematician at the same college, and a former Rose of Tralee participant, representing Boston. She died in 2016, and the couple had five children: Mary, Maeve, John and Paul (twins), and Owen.
Lawlor later earned a Ph.D. in geology, settling in Milton, near Boston, and went on to become one of New England’s leading geologists. Though so close to the medal podium in Rome, he was also part of an exclusive club of Irish track and field athletes who finished fourth in the Olympics, along with Eamonn Coghlan (twice), Sonia O’Sullivan and Thomas Barr.
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