Local hammer throwing coach Paddy McGrath said he can’t believe it’s been 16 years since he competed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics for Ireland, and yet it still feels like it was yesterday, he said.
“I know what it’s like. I know the pressure,’’ said McGrath, who lives in Ossining and coaches track and field at Briarcliff High School. He is a special education teacher in the Bronx.
That’s why McGrath flew to Rio de Janeiro on Sunday so he could provide coaching and a calming influence for his student, Team USA thrower Rudy Winkler of upstate Averill Park.
“It’s a joy for me to go and see him compete,’’ McGrath said.
“I can’t believe it’s my second time going to the Olympics: my first time as an athlete and now as a coach. I never thought I would make it as a coach. Obviously, I found the right kid and I was lucky.’’
Winkler is one of about two dozen throwers who train with McGrath and Minisink Valley teacher Kevin Sullivan at the New York Hammer Throw Squad on weekends at a small facility in Middletown.
Winkler had a rough Olympics debut on Wednesday morning. He fouled on his first and third attempts in the qualifying round, and got off one solid throw of 71.89 meters.
“I told him just treat it like another meet,’’ McGrath said. “It’s the Olympics, I understand, but go out and do the best you can.’’
McGrath came to the United States from Dublin in 1990, and he graduated from Manhattan College in 1995. He was a two-time All-American selection.
McGrath watched with great pride as Winkler marched in to Olympic Stadium in Rio during the opening ceremonies, positioning himself smartly some four or five people away from flag bearer Michael Phelps, assuring some TV time.
“He called me from the stadium and I told him congratulations,’’ McGrath said. “I said you joined a very exclusive club. There’s not many people who can say they walked out for their country at the Olympic Games. It’s a lifetime achievement in itself. I know the pride that I had competing for Ireland and I know Rudy definitely was probably very nostalgic that he walked out with the U.S. Olympic Team. Words can’t describe that. I was happy for him.’’
McGrath retired not long after his Olympics competition, and he was encouraged to give coaching a try by American Harold “Hal” Connolly, who won the gold medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Connolly
passed away in 2010.
“You rise on the shoulders of the people who have come before you,’’ McGrath said. “I was very lucky there was a coach, Harold Connolly … he started USA Junior Hammer, and when I stopped throwing he encouraged me to start coaching and get the kids involved. I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah,’ and when I started to do it I drank the Kool-Aid and it’s great.’’
McGrath was also influenced by his coach, Soviet Union defector Roman Feldman. Now McGrath coaches Feldman’s sons, who placed third and eighth at high school nationals. McGrath has also coached the last two state indoor weight throw champs.
“It’s funny,’’ McGrath said, “I used to get a thrill from competing. Now I get a thrill if my kids do well, that’s the joy for me now.’’