Sport: Track & Field
Born: August 17, 1933
Thomas William Courtney was born August 17, 1933 in Newark. His father was a pitcher in the Yankees minor league system, playing for the Newark Bears. He quit baseball soon after Tom was born and the family moved to Livingston. Tom followed in his father’s footsteps and became a baseball pitcher as a teenager. He had a good fastball but poor control, so he quit playing after a couple of seasons at Caldwell High School.
Looking for a spring sport, Tom was drawn to tennis at first, but the Chiefs basketball coach, Dwight Burr, convinced him to go out for track. Coach Emil Piel asked him to try the half mile. He beat everyone on the team. Early in his track career, tom was knocked down and spiked by opposing runners. His father told him to race from the front of the pack, and after that he was tough to beat. As a senior in 1951 he was undefeated, and ran a 2:02 half mile.
Tom was recruited by several colleges, including Penn, Yale and Villanova. He decided to go to Fordham, which offered him a full ride. Also, his mother’s cousin had been the captain of the Rams’ track team. Coach Artie O’Connor turned Tom into a world-class 400 and 800 meters runner. He was the NCAA 880 yard champion in 1955. After graduation, he was the 1956 AAU champion in the 400 meters and made the U.S. Olympic team, setting a new American record of 1.46 in the 800 meters.
In the 800 meter final in Melbourne, Tom ran the race of his life against U.S. teammate Arnie Sowell and England’s Derek Johnson. Sowell, the world record holder, set a fast pace and Tom struggled to keep up. Sowell burned out with 40 meters to go and Tom passed him, but he was spent too. Johnson blew past both of them