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TOMMY CONNEFF OF CLANE PRIDE OF KILDARE

 
Leinster Leader, October 14th 1950
 
 
 
Tommy Conneff of Clane
 Pride of Kildare
By
Dave Guiney
 
The shades of evening were lengthening across the green turf at the historic athletic grounds of Ballsbridge, when Tommy Conneff and Edward Carter, of the United States came to the mark for the four miles race in August of 1887. The huge crowd, which had gathered for the famous race, grew silent as the runners posed, waiting for the starting gun. Then as the shot echoed over the grounds, the two runners started on what must surely be classified as one of the greatest races in the whole history of Irish athletics. Lap after lap, they sped around the track, never more than a few yards between them, each watching the other as a cat watches a mouse.
For fifteen laps they ran together and even the crowd sensed that the finish would be sensational. As they entered the final lap, Carter was running in front with the Kildare man trailing about five yards behind. Then as the crowd commenced to urge him on, Conneff made his effort. Piling on speed he overtook Carter, passed him, and then with a superlative burst of speed, he raced away to the tape in 19 minutes 44 2/5 seconds, a new Irish record and only a few seconds outside the world’s record.
How great this performance was can be judged from the fact that it was not until 1947, that it was broken by an Irishman, and since then only two of the finest runners in the world have succeeded in doing better in this country. One was the amazing Dutchman Win Slyjkuis and the other Dr. Aaron, of Great Britain. No other record survived for so long on the Irish books, or even to-day, when some of out finest runners have tackled the four mile distance, they have found that Conneff’s time was far greater than they realised. Barry, one of the finest runners ever produced in this land of ours, made a few unsuccessful efforts to erase Conneff’s figures, but failed badly. Even this year, it was announced that Win Slyjkuis and Barry would try and break the world’s record for the four miles, but not only did they fail to do this, but neither of them was able to better the Kildare man’s time.
Conneff emigrated to the United States in 1888, and was soon figuring prominently, so much so that in the summer of that year, he was back in England with an American group of athletes and where he won the British mile championship.
Back in America, in the autumn, Conneff raced away with the American title for the five miles, and retained it for the following three years as well as taking two mile titles and one over the ten mile distance. In 1891 he reduced the American mile record to 4 minutes 21 seconds and two years later, took nearly four seconds off this time when he did 4 minutes 17.8 seconds.
The first international match ever between America and England was fixed for 1895, and Conneff who had by that time hung up his shoes, was persuaded to make a come back.In his preparatory training period he had a race over the three-quarter mile distance, and set a new world mark of 3 minutes, 2.8 seconds, a time which defied the efforts of the world’s greatest runners right down to 1931, when Jules Laloumegene the famous French miler, succeeded in breaking it. After this record breaking run, a mile race was arranged to give the Kildare man an opportunity of attacking the world’s record, and Conneff duly obliged by clocking 4 minutes 15. 6 seconds.
On the day of the Internal match, Conneff was opposed by the reigning American champion, George Orton, who had taken the American title in the very slow time of four minutes thirty-six seconds. Irish hearts had already been cheered by the gigantic effort of Mike Sweeney, who had broken the world’s record in the high jump, and Conneff’s appearance was greeted on all sides.
Running easily, and without apparent effort, he took the lead from the very beginning, and seeing that the opposition was negligible he eased up in the last lap. Even at that, his time was 4 minutes 18.2 seconds, and the nearest finisher, Orton, was nearly 50 yards behind. Not content with this victory, Conneff also took part in the three mile event, which he won in effortless fashion.
Although he decided to retire after this time, Conneff was persuaded to turn professional, and in the summer of 1897, took on another great Irish runner, George Blennerhasset Tincler, affectionately known as the “Gander.” Tincler was at the height of his fame at this period, whereas Conneff had definitely reached the end of his great running days, so it came as no surprise that he was unable to beat Tincler.
Fifteen years later, Tommy Conneff was found drowned in the Phillipine Islands, where he was a sergeant in the American Army.
Ireland has won great renown in all parts of the world with her weight men, and only on very rare occasions have we had great runners, fit to take the lead with the best in the world, which should make us remember the greatness of Tommy Conneff, the man from Clane, who carried our flag to success far from his native county.

Dave Guiney recalls the great internationl success  attained by Tommy Conneff from Clane in the sport of running. He emigrated to the United States in 1888. The article appeared in the Leinster Leader of October 1950. Our thanks to Roy O'Brien


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