New-York Historical Society's Bill Shannon Dictionary of New York Sports

Category Archives: Track and field

Clarence Cone


Clarence Cone (Track and field.  Born, New York, NY, July 18, 1870; died, New York, NY, July 18, 1947.)  A long-time member of the old Knickerbocker A.C., Clarence Cone helped organize the first regular marathon held in the United States, Sept. 19, 1896, which was run at a 25-mile distance from Stamford, Conn., to what is now The Bronx.  The race was regularly run through 1932.  Also in 1896, Cone set an American and world record for sock-race hurdles.  He was a regular event official for A.A.U., I.C.4A., and P.S.A.L. meets for decades.

Ray Conger


Ray Conger (Track and field.  Born, Seward, IL, Nov. 12, 1904; died, State College, PA, Oct. 23, 1994.)  Of the thousands of runners who trod the boards at various Madison Square Garden tracks, none created the excitement generated by Iowa State graduate Raymond Conger on the night of Feb. 9, 1929.  Paavo Nurmi, the multi-gold Olympian from Finland who had swept through earlier New York seasons, had returned and set his sights on the Wanamaker Mile.  Conger had run second the year before in a generally weak field and was considered no more of a threat to Nurmi than the other five starters.  After seven laps, Conger was well back, but then began his move.  With two laps to go, he was right behind Nurmi, then pulled ahead and pulled away, winning by eight yards.  Conger’s win set off a frenzy among the 15,000 fans.  For many years it was known as the “greatest upset in track.”  Conger was a winner both before and after that night but his win over the invincible Finn (in 4:17.4) was Page One news.  At Iowa State, he was the N.C.A.A. mile champion in 1927 and won the indoor A.A.U. 1,000-yard run from 1928-31.  Conger returned to the Wanamaker three more times, winning in 1930 and 1931 (4:13.0) and finishing fourth in 1932.

Tom Courtney


Tom Courtney (Track and field.  Born, Newark, NJ, Aug. 17, 1933.)  A Fordham runner, Thomas W. Courtney was among the best middle distance men in the 1950s.  Courtney was a U.S. Olympic gold medalist in the 800 meters at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.  He had set a U.S. record at the distance (1:46.4) in the Olympic trials.  At the same Olympiad, Courtney anchored the gold medal 1,600-meter relay team.  He first came to notice as the I.C.4A. indoor champion at 1,000 meters at the Garden in 1954.  Courtney won the Millrose 880-yard run in 1956, was the A.A.U. champion at that distance in 1957 and 1958.  He set a world record in the 880 (1:46.8) May 24, 1957.

Glenn Cunningham


Glenn Cunningham (Track and field.  Born, Elkhart, KS, Aug. 4, 1909; died, Menifee, AR, Mar. 10, 1988.)  While sub-4:00 miles are almost routine now, both indoors and outdoors, such was not the case in the 1930s, when Glenn Cunningham was the world’s premier miler.  At that time, a sub-4:10 mile was considered unusual.  No one thought that a mile could be run in under four minutes – except Cunningham.  His insistence that the four-minute barrier could be broken and his continually running at under 4:10 helped pave the way for the eventual four-minute-miles of the 1950s.  Cunningham ran 12 sub-4:10 miles and was a particularly dominant runner at the major indoor meets in Madison Square Garden, where he won 21 of 31 miles he ran.  Running first for Kansas University, then for the Curb Exchange A.A. (while he did Ph.D. work at N.Y.U.), Cunningham won six Wanamaker Miles, six Columbian Miles and five Baxter Miles.  He set a world indoor record of 4:07.4 in the 1938 Knights of Columbus Games at the Garden.  In 1933, he won the Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete.  That Cunningham could run at all was a marvel.  In 1917, his legs were badly burned in a fire that killed his older brother.

William B. Curtis


William B. Curtis (Track and field.  Born, Salisbury, VT, Jan. 17, 1837; died, Mt. Washington, NH, July 1, 1900.)  A founder of the New York Athletic Club in 1868, William B. Curtis was also a champion athlete.  Curtis won the national championship in the hammer throw three times (1876, 1878, 1880), and in the 56-pound weight in 1880.  He also served as president of the N.Y.A.C. (1880-81) and was killed while climbing Mount Washington at age 63.

Willie Davenport


Willie Davenport (Track and field.  Born, Troy, AL, June 8, 1943; died, Chicago, IL, June 17, 2002.)  An Olympic gold medal hurdler in 1968, Willie Davenport was also a dominant competitor in New York indoor meets.  Davenport was a five-time winner at the Millrose Games.  He ran for the U.S. Army and later the Houston Striders in open meets, winning three straight A.A.U. titles at the Garden in the 60-yard hurdles (1969-71).  Davenport set an American indoor record in the event (7.1 seconds) at the 1969 Olympic Invitation meet at the Garden and lowered it to 7.0 the following year.  He ran in four Summer Olympic Games (1964, 1968, 1972, 1976) and was on a U.S. four-man bobsled team at the 1980 Winter Games.

Ron Delany


Ron Delany (Track and field.  Born, Arklow, County Wicklow, Ireland, Mar. 6, 1935.)  Both as a Villanova star and as a post-graduate, Ron Delany was one of the great and dominant indoor milers in the history of indoor track at Madison Square Garden, winning all 17 of his Garden miles.  Delany ran for Villanova from 1955-58, and in 1956 was a gold medal Olympian at the Melbourne Games running for his native Ireland.  During his years as a Garden champion, there were five major indoor track meets run over the boards in the 49th Street arena annually – the Millrose Games, the Amateur Athletic Union’s national indoor championships, the Knights of Columbus Games, the New York Athletic Club meet, and a collegiate event, the I.C.A.A.A.A. (the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America).  At one stretch, Delany claimed 23 straight victories in the Garden at various distances in these meets.  The famous mile events, such as the Wanamaker Mile (Millrose), the Baxter Mile (N.Y.A.C.) and the Frank A. Brennan Columbian Mile (K of C), repeatedly saw Delany listed as the winner.  He was the first man ever to win the A.A.U. mile championship four straight years, and won the Wanamaker Mile four straight times as well (1956-59). He was voted the outstanding athlete in the 1958 Millrose Games. He won the Columbian in 1957, 1958, and 1959, setting a world indoor mile record of 4:01.4 in the final of these. He also won a special mile at the 1956 Knights of Columbus meet.

Harrison Dillard


Harrison Dillard (Track and field.  Born, Cleveland, OH, July 8, 1923.)  During the years immediately following World War II, one of the dominant names in track and field was that of Harrison Dillard, the former Baldwin-Wallace star who made it big in New York and at the Olympics.  Dillard was 27-2 in 60-yard high hurdles events run in Madison Square Garden.  He won the Millrose Games high hurdles nine straight years, from 1947-55.  In that nine-year run, Dillard three times matched the meet record of 7.2 seconds.  He won over 400 races in his career, including what was then a world-record 82 in a row.  The wins included eight national A.A.U. indoor championships in the 60-yard high hurdles.  In 1955, he won the Sullivan Award as America’s outstanding amateur athlete.  Dillard also won four Olympic gold medals, although one of them was not in his specialty.  In 1948 he failed to make the U.S. team when he stumbled during the hurdles trials.  The next week, he entered the sprint event and qualified.  Thus, he won the sprint 100-meter gold at London in 1948 and the 110-meter hurdles gold in Helsinki in 1952.

Gil Dodds


Gil Dodds (Track and field.  Born, Norcatur, KS, June 23, 1918; died, St. Charles, IL, Feb. 3, 1977.)  From the time he won the 1940 N.C.A.A. cross-country national championship running for Ashland (O.) College, Rev. Gilbert Lothar Dodds was expected to be a major star.  Dodds indeed became the leading miler during and immediately after World War II.  From 1943-48, he was a dominant performer in the Garden, winning the Baxter Mile at the N.Y.A.C. Games twice (1943, 1944), the Brennan-Columbian at the K. of C. Games twice (1944, 1947), and in the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games was second in 1943 and won three times (1944, 1947, 1948), retiring the ninth Rodman Wanamaker Trophy.  On Jan. 31, 1948, Dodds set a then-world record (4:05.3) at the Garden near the end of a 21-race victory streak in mile races.  He won the 1943 Sullivan Award as the nation’s best amateur athlete while running for the Boston A.A.

Jumbo Elliott


Jumbo Elliott (Track and field.  Born, Philadelphia, PA, July 18, 1914; died, Juno Beach, FL, Mar. 22, 1981.)  James Francis Elliott earned his nickname because he was a fan of a Phillies pitcher also named Jim (Jumbo) Elliott, but he earned his reputation in track and field because he was one of the most masterful and popular coaches ever produced in America.  From 1935 until his death, Elliott was the track coach at Villanova.  His athletes established a staggering number of world and American records.  Villanova was the dominant team in the indoor championships of the Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletes of America during the years when that meet was held annually at Madison Square Garden.  Overall, 18 of Elliott’s athletes, including Eamonn Coghlan, Marty Liquori, and Frank Budd, set world outdoor records, and 44 set world indoor marks.  At the Garden, Villanova won its first I.C.4A. title in 1957.  Over the next 13 years, the Wildcats won ten more championships, including two streaks of four in a row.  Villanova also hung up a streak of individual gold medalists starting in 1955 that included such stars as Charlie Jenkins, Don Bragg, Ron Delany, Ed Collymore, Noel Carroll, Rolando Cruz, Erv Hall and Dave Patrick.  Coghlan, Liquori and Budd were particular New York favorites, appearing regularly in various events at the Garden.  Elliott’s extraordinary success was even more fascinating when it is understood he was a part-time coach who never received more than $10,000 a year for the job.

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The Bill Shannon Biographical Dictionary of New York Sports is an open database of sports biographies maintained by Jordan Sprechman and Marty Appel. We welcome public and scholarly contributions and suggestions.

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A prolific author, wire service sports reporter, long time Major League Baseball official scorer, football statistician, sports museum founder, theatrical agency owner and public ... read more

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