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Minnesota Gophers Olympic Games #TBT Mr Track Jim Kelly

Longtime Gopher Track Coach was also an Olympic Cold War hero at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.

Track Coach Kelly with Byrl Thompson
Track Coach Kelly with Byrl Thompson
U of M

James "Jim" Kelly was born in po dunk Iowa in 1893. He was a high school multi-sports star, and WWI veteran. Kelly coached at Depaul University before coming to the U of M, and in 1933-1934 he led the Blue Deacons to undefeated records in Football, Basketball, and Baseball. That isn't relevant to this post but I thought it was pretty bad ass.

When Kelly aka "Mr. Track" came to Dinkytown in 1937 there was little interest in Track and Field. But Mr. Track was out there innovating, with moves like the "Minnesota Whip" which is basically the modern way to throw discus. This led to Minnesota's only Track and Field National Championship in 1948 and propelled Kelly to be the U.S.A. National Track and Field Coach.

The 1956 Melbourne games were lit. Kelly received so much criticism for how he was running his team he had TWO heart attacks before the games began. The Cold War was in full swing, and the Soviet Union came to Australia to make a statement. The USSR wanted to win badly, so badly there was literally a Water Polo match called "Blood in the Water" vs Hungary. The Soviets were the far and away favorites to win the Track and Field events, but that didn't stop Kelly boldly predicting at least 12 gold medals for the United States. The team did him 3 better coming home with 15 (at the time it was the best Track and Field performance ever). While Kelly's track squad did their part the USSR won the overall medal count 98 vs America's 74.

Jim Kelly retired from the U of M in 1963. Over his 26 years at Minnesota he had coached 36 Big Ten individual champions, 7 NCAA champs, and 15 All-Americans. The 1964 yearbook describes that above all else Mr. Tracks' teams "were overwhelmingly native in personnel" whatever the heck that means. He died in 1972.