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16 Jul 1908
London 1908
London 1908

All-rounder Sheridan triumphs in long jump and discus

The Irish-born Martin Sheridan was described by the New York Times as “one of the greatest athletes this country has ever known” upon his untimely death from pneumonia in 1918, and his feats in London certainly attested to that.

Sheridan had already won gold in the discus throw at St Louis, in the III Olympiad, and had repeated the feat at the 1906 Intercalated Games in Athens, adding a shot put gold to his tally and also winning three silver medals. He was a noted all-rounder and also competed in the standing high-jump and standing long-jump events, both of which he would take part in at White City.

His first victory came on July 16 in the discus event that he began as favourite. This was his specialism and he performed accordingly; his compatriot, Merritt Giffin, seemed on course to win the event after throwing 40.70m in the first round, but Sheridan responded with a 40.89m throw that was not to be surpassed and retained his title. On the same afternoon, he made surprisingly little impact in the shot put and was not among those with a recorded distance.
Two days later he competed in what we refer to now as the ‘Greek discus’ event, and what was officially known back in 1908 as ‘Throwing the Discus (as at Athens)’. This event was making its debut at the Games and would never be held again; the rules, painstakingly set out, stipulated that the thrower must stand on a pedestal 80cm long and 70cm broad, sloping forward from a height of 15cm to one of 5cm.

Sheridan, whom the Official Report referred to as a “splendidly proportioned man” (he stood at 6ft 3in and weighed 194lb) this time came out ahead of Bill Horr, throwing 37.99m to his competitor’s 37.32m and winning his second gold medal in three days.

The event itself had already caused some controversy, as alluded to in the Official Report. It stated: “It is considered by English scholars that the Athenian rules for the Discus are based upon a mistranslation of a corrupt text, and do not represent what the ancient Greeks actually did; but the rules were used at Athens in 1906, and will no doubt be used there again. The results of admitting them in London show that they are unnecessary, for the same athlete won both the free and the restricted style.” It comes as little surprise, therefore, that Sheridan was the first and only man to win this title.

On 20 July, Sheridan was back again. This time the standing long jump (or ‘standing broad jump’) was his target and he was not far off a hat-trick. His 3.22m best was 11cm behind that of winner Ray Ewry and a mere quarter of an inch shy of second-placed Konstantinos Tsikliritas, the 19-year-old from Greece. Although there was to be no gold this time, Sheridan had his third medal of these Games.

There was a three-day break before the standing high jump. The remarkable Ewry, who had dominated the 1904 Olympics, won again and this time Sheridan could not claw himself far enough up a tightly-packed field, finishing 16th with a 1.37m jump – 20cm short of the winner’s best effort.

Sheridan’s Olympics finished on 25 July in a manner unbecoming of his overall effort and application. Competing in the triple jump – then referred to as the “running hop, step, jump” – his first attempt was good enough to finish 13th overall, but he injured his foot in the process and was forced to retire from the event.

By 1908, Sheridan was working as a police officer in New York – and a distinguished one at that. According to his New York Times obituary: “During Governor Glynn’s term of office Sheridan was his special bodyguard on many of the Chief Executive’s visits to this city.” As all-rounders go, he was one of the Olympic Movement’s earliest and finest.

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