Thomas Courtney is a two time Olympic champion in track and field (1956, Melbourne) and a 1989 NYAC Hall of Fame Inductee.
Courtney was born August 17th, 1933, in Newark NJ.
Courtney did not start running competitively until his junior year in high school, when the school’s coach urged him to try out. Initially, he was going to try out for the pole vault, but his 800m time was far better.
Like so many other NYAC track and field greats, Courtney attended Fordham University. In 1954, as a junior, Courtney won the 1000 yards at the IC4A championships. The following year, he won the 880 yards at the NCAA championships. These victories at the end of his college career convinced Courtney that he had what it took to compete in the Olympic Games. Unfortunately, that dream was put on hold; after graduating from Fordham, Courtney was drafted into the armed forces.
Despite his demanding schedule and the rigors of being in the Army, Courtney was determined to continue training. With no time during the day, Courtney ran at night, when he was supposed to be asleep. One night, while he was running around the edge of the base, the commanding officer approached him, incredulous as to why someone was running in the middle of the night. He explained that he was training for the Olympics. The next morning, to Courtney’s surprise, he was called to the base’s gymnasium; he was told that he was now a clerk typist, and would be given time to train during the day.
At the 1956 Olympic Trials Courtney set the American record in the 800m with a time of 1:46.4, and entered the finals as a favorite to medal.
Going into the final stretch of the race, Courtney was in a dead heat with Derek Johnson of Great Britain. In the final meters of the race, Courtney pushed ahead by just a hair, crossing the finish line one tenth of a second before Johnson. In addition to winning the gold medal, Courtney’s time of 1:47.7 was an Olympic record.
Courtney also ran for the US 4x400m relay team, despite not running that event in the Olympic trials. Coach Jim Kelly said he could join the team on one condition: he had to beat every member on the existing team in a 400m race. He did so, decisively.
In the 4x400m final, Courtney anchored the team and led them to a comfortable victory, and his second gold medal in those Games.