Olympics Throwback: Tom Courtney’s Heroic Come-from-Behind Victory at the 1956 Summer Games

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Nearly 60 years ago, on November 26, 1956, Tom Courtney, FCRH ’55 (No. 153 above), won the gold medal in the 800-meter race at the Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. He set an Olympic record with a time of 1:47.7, when he overtook Britain’s Derek Johnson (No. 137) in the final 40 meters of the race before collapsing from exhaustion.

“It was a new kind of agony for me,” he later wrote. “My head was exploding, my stomach ripping, and even the tips of my fingers ached. The only thing I could think was, ‘If I live, I will never run again.’”

Courtney did run again, however. Five days later, he anchored the U.S. team’s four-man 1,600-meter relay, earning a second gold medal. He was inducted into the Fordham Athletics Hall of Fame in 1971, and USA Track & Field inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 1978 as one of the best middle-distance runners of his generation.

VIDEO: Watch Courtney’s inspiring effort in this clip from the Greatest Thrills from the Olympics. Host Bob Considine interviews Courtney, calling his run “the most courageous race I’ve seen in 25 years of sportswriting.” (Race begins at 1:25.)

 

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