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John Kelly

Biographical information

TypeCompeted in Olympic Games
Full nameJohn•Kelly
Used nameJohn•Kelly
Born6 December 1929 in Brittas (IRL)
Died13 November 2012 in Prescott, Arizona (USA)
Measurements185 cm / 76 kg
NOC Ireland


John Kelly grew up in Graystown, Ireland, studying at the Graystown National School, but when he turned 20 he emigrated to Australia and then went back-and-forth between Melbourne and New Zealand for a few years, working construction. While there he tried to make the 1956 Australian Olympic team as both a hammer thrower and boxer, without success. In the 1950s he had won Golden Gloves Tournaments in Melbourne, and was runner-up at the 1957 New Zealand Championships as a heavyweight. He also played rugby as a wing forward, helping New Plymouth win the Moran Cup in 1954 at Auckland’s Eden Park.

In 1959 Kelly moved to the United States where he considered a boxing career and began to train at Bobby Gleason’s Gym in New York, but instead started to run marathons, and ran the 1964 Yonkers Marathon, which was won of the two US Olympic Trials that year. In 1965 he won the Philadelphia Marathon in 2-37:23, although it snowed throughout the race. At the time of the 1968 Olympics, in which he raced as a walker, he competed for the Melrose Athletic Association outside of Boston. He later moved to California where he competed for the Southern Cal Striders and the Santa Monica Track Club. In 1973 Kelly earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records when he walked 120 miles in Death Valley in a record time of 34 hours 9 minutes and 9 seconds, beating the previous record by 28 hours 30 minutes. Despite soaring July temperatures he attempted the feat to free the Forth Worth Five, who were Irish-Americans considered wrongly imprisoned in Texas. The ensuing publicity resulted in the dismissal of charges of supplying arms to the IRA and their release from prison – Senator Ted Kennedy and the Archbishop of Texas aided in this effort. In the 1970s Kelly became a member of the Screen Actors Guild and appears briefly in the musical film Star!, starring Julie Andrews. Kelly and his wife eventually settled in Prescott, Arizona, after a peripatetic life.

Personal Best: 50kmW – 4-25:24 (1968).


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1968 Summer Olympics Athletics IRL John Kelly
50 kilometres Walk, Men (Olympic) AC