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McGrath taking hammer from Bronx to Sydney

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Paddy McGrath’s luggage is not exactly suited to unencumbered travel. Toothbrush, socks, a book for the plane, and, oh yeah, the hammer.

McGrath, a Bronx-based Dubliner, is off to Sydney in a few days to represent Ireland at the Olympics in the hammer throwing event.

So something is going to have to give when it comes to packing. The bottle of after shave perhaps. The extra pair of shoes might have to stay behind.

After narrowly missing qualification for the Atlanta games four years ago, McGrath, an alumnus of Manhattan College, finally realized his dream last year when he launched his 15-pound ball and attached chain beyond the Olympic qualifying distance.

McGrath, Ireland’s national champion in the hammer last year, is one of five Manhattan alumni who have claimed the Irish title, according to Manhattan track and field coach Dan Mecca.

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McGrath’s best throw in the event is 77 meters 49cm, just a short distance behind Irish record holder Declan Hegarty’s 77.80.

"Obviously I will be hoping to improve on my best in Sydney and I’m hoping to get into the final round of the hammer event," McGrath told the Echo last week from his parents’ home in Dublin, where he was tuning up for this year’s national championships, staged in Santry Stadium, Dublin, last Sunday.

McGrath came to New York in 1990 and graduated from Manhattan College in 1995. While with the Jaspers, he was a two-time All-America selection. Now living in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, he is a special physical education teacher at the Bronx School for Career Development.

"I still help out at Manhattan and do some of my training there. They have been very good to me," said McGrath, who is 29 and stands 6-foot-1 and 275 pounds.

"But much of my training is done on Randalls Island. There’s an old hammer circle, which has been kind of ignored and forgotten and a few of us use it."

It hardly sounds like the most sophisticated training regimen in an era of golden-shoed sprinters and megabuck endorsements.

But in many respects, McGrath embodies the old and somewhat careworn Olympic amateur ideal. He is not a full-time athlete. As such, he is a part-inheritor of an Irish tradition in the hammer event that goes back many years and includes the exploits of the legendary Dr. Pat O’Callaghan, the gold medalist at both the 1928 games in Amsterdam and the ’32 games in Los Angeles.

"If the weather isn’t good, I just don’t train. It’s not the end of the world," McGrath said.

At the same time, he has been blessed with a top-class coach, Roman Feldman. Feldman is a Russian who defected from the old Soviet Union in 1988. Coach Feldman holds a doctorate in physical movement studies from the University of Kiev.

"The hammer is as much a motion event as it is a power one. It’s all about speed in the circle and timing of release. I have been very lucky having Roman as my coach," McGrath said.

Feldman will be traveling to Sydney with McGrath, who sets out for Australia on Aug. 29. The Olympics happen to coincide with the start of the new school year, but that’s not going to be a problem for McGrath.

"We will be staying in a camp north of Sydney for a couple of weeks before competition begins and all told I will be away until Oct. 4," McGrath said. "Michael Burke, the principal of the school where I teach, has been really good to me with regards to time off.

"I’m really looking forward to the games. I’ll be enjoying every moment and with bit of luck I’ll make the final 12."

It’s a long way from Paddy McGrath’s circle of dreams in a neglected corner of Randalls Island to Stadium Australia, the huge amphitheater with a crowd capacity in excess of 100,000.

But that’s as it should be. The Olympics, despite all the money and hype of recent times, is still the ultimate in world sporting competition. Just getting there is an achievement of a lifetime. And Paddy McGrath well knows it.

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