SI math teacher Jim Delaney won silver in ’48 London Olympics for shot put

SI math teacher Jim Delaney at the Olympics. Courtesy

John Pescatore, who coached crew and taught at SI in the 1990s, isn’t the only former member of the faculty with an Olympic medal. Pescatore won a bronze medal in 1988 in Seoul as part of the US team’s 8-man boat, and while at SI, he carried the torch in SF on its way to the Atlanta games.

Thanks to a story that ran in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, we know of one more faculty Olympian. Francis James “Jim” Delaney, who taught math at SI for two years starting in 1946 and who competed in the summer of ’48 in the London Olympics, where he won a silver medal for shot put. This Sacred Heart grad later worked for Steelcase, Inc., retiring in 1987 as vice president and general manager of the company’s West Coast division. Mr. Delaney died April 2, 2012, in his home in Santa Rosa at 91. The following article is reprinted from the 1948 Ignatian.

Early last August, on the rain-soaked turf of Wembley, England, San Francisco’s own Jim Delaney did his little “hop, skip and throw” routine and heaved the shot put 54.72 feet to break a longstanding Olympic Games record. (His American companion Wilbur “Moose’ Thompson of Redondo Beach, took first place with a toss of 56 feet, 2.5 inches.)

A few weeks before, he had won the AAU championship at Milwaukee. These achievements climaxed a brilliant sports career that began nearly 10 years ago in this city. Jim was a senior at Sacred Heart High School back in 1939 and was considered the nation’s top school boy shot-putter. He was then throwing the standard 12-pound shot a mere 58 feet. His best effort as a prep star was 58 feet, 4.5 inches, only 6 inches short of the world’s record of 58 feet, 10.5 inches. But this is still the San Francisco AAA shot-put record. Delaney would probably have set a new world’s record had he not been bound by a league rule that says that a weight man must throw the discus before throwing the shot-put. The energy expended in this first throw might well have been the 6-inch difference between his best throw and the world’s record.

Colleges all over the country tried to lure this high school star to their campuses, but always a true “fighting Irishman,” he made headlines when he chose Notre Dame as his alma mater. The death, early in 1940, of John Nicholson, famed Notre Dame track and field coach, was a great shock to Jim. Even so, he soon broke the Notre Dame shot put (16 lbs.) record made by Don Elser in 1931 with a toss of 49 feet, 6.5 inches.

During his collegiate career, Jim compiled the following record: Intercollegiate champion in 1941 and Central Collegiate champ in 1942 and 1943; first place in the Penn Relays in 1941; and, in 1942, second place in the Drake Relays and third in the National AAU Championship meet, in which he again took third in 1943.

Now the established collegiate champ, Jim topped off his college career by being elected the Notre Dame track and field captain for the 1943 season. This made him the first San Franciscan to captain a Notre Dame athletic team.

After graduation in 1943, Delaney entered the Navy and served as an officer for some 33 months in the Pacific on the ammunition ship U.S.S. Pyro. In the late summer of 1946, he came to SI as an instructor in advanced mathematics. Due to the war, the Olympic Games of 1940 and 1944 were cancelled, and when Jim returned from the service, he was three years behind in competition and was rusty. It was then that he donned the “Flying Wings” of the San Francisco Olympic Club and set his sights on the 1948 Olympics. It wasn’t easy. Older now (27 last birthday) and out of condition, he was constantly plagued with backaches and strained muscles.

In order to get back on top again, it was necessary for Delaney to enter every big meet held on the coast. Almost every time he entered a meet, he walked off with a first-place ribbon. Some of his medals were garnered from such notorious events as the Santa Barbara Relays, the Fresno Relays and the Pacific Association of Track and Field Events meet. In 1947, he was crowned National AAU champ.

Then, in the summer of this year, together with his O.C. teammates Martin Biles and Guinn Smith, he packed his sweat suit and proceeded to Milwaukee, where, for the second straight year, he won the AAU championship with the amazing throw of 54 feet, 8 inches.

From there, he migrated south to Evanston, Illinois, for the Olympic tryouts, where he made shot put history by throwing the 16-pound lead ball 55.1 inch. It was the best throw of his life. By mid-July, Jim Delaney was aboard the United States Olympic ship, the S.S. America, realizing the dream of every competitor — a berth on the United States Olympic team.

While in England, Jim took in all the sights: Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the infamous London Tower and all the rest. It was truly the most memorable and exciting experience in his great career.

Together with the other San Francisco champions, namely Ann Curtis, Guinn Smith, Martin Biles, Patsy Elsener and the others, Jim Delaney was welcomed home in grand style. The festivities consisted of a large-scale parade up Market Street, lunch at the Commercial Club and a huge municipal reception at the City Hall. Numerous personal appearances have also marked the return of Francis James Delaney to his native San Francisco. Jim has now buried his laurels deep in the attic trunk and is back at SI once again to take up his teaching profession. In the minds of all American sports fans, Delaney is a true champion, but in the hearts of all the SI students, he is just “Big Jim.”

Other Sports

Track, swimming, tennis and boxing rounded out the sports program at SI in the 1940s, with golf resurrecting in 1949. Frank Zanazzi, a “curly-haired, Scotch-burred” track coach, came to SI in 1946 after serving as a U.S. Olympics trainer. In his first year, he led SI to a divisional championship but fell just short of taking the AAA title.