100th Anniversary Of Andrew B. Kelly’s 300-Yard Dash World Record
By Greg Barlow
Special to GoHolyCross.com
One hundred years ago, outdoor races took place on cinder tracks and times were recorded on stop-watches in fifths of a second. Albert Einstein was publishing papers on cosmology, Harry Houdini was performing magic tricks, President Woodrow Wilson was serving his first term in office and World War I was well underway.
On March 17, 1917, 100 years from this day, Holy Cross track legend Andrew B. Kelly, known as “Champ,” was in his senior year as a captain of the Crusaders when he set a world record in the 300-yard dash with his time of 31-2/5 seconds, 4/5 of a second faster than the previous standard.
“It wasn’t like today where football and basketball take all the headlines,” explained Kelly’s son, Andrew J. Kelly `60. “Back then, certainly at Holy Cross, it was the track team that energized the student body and gave exposure to the school. That’s the sport everyone was talking about.”
Due to a pair of re-starts, Kelly had already run the race twice prior to setting the world record, which was unheard of at the time. “He did stuff that officials even thought was unbelievable,” added Andrew J. Kelly.
A native of Rye, N.Y. and growing up on the streets of the city, it came as no surprise that Kelly, described as a “5’8” barrel-chested sprinter,” would set his most famous mark in his home state at the Millrose Games on that day in March. In his college yearbook it was written that he gained his world-class speed in his youth, while outrunning New York police officers. “That reference first came up in a comment in his yearbook and was brought up in a recent newspaper article, so it looks nice but doesn’t have any relevance to him gaining his speed,” explained Andrew J. Kelly while debunking that myth.
Throughout his Holy Cross career, Kelly’s name could be spotted on numerous headlines in the sports sections of renowned papers across the country—the same papers often featuring the names of Major League Baseball greats.
“I had heard of my father’s records, but never really understood the full extent of how great a runner he was until I read through all the clippings from papers he kept over the years,” said Andrew J. Kelly.
Prior to setting his world record, Kelly, who ran under legendary Holy Cross head coach Bart Sullivan (1912-1964), was no stranger to national news headlines. As a freshman, he ran the lead-off leg for Holy Cross in the quarter-mile relay team and won the 50-yard dash at the New England Championship as a sophomore. Running the fastest leg, his relay team captured a new quarter-mile meet record at the Penn Relay Carnival (1916) with his team’s time of 3:25. The squad additionally included Joe Higgins `16, Al Reilly `17 and Tom Mahoney `18.
During his junior season, Kelly started developing his reputable notion as a world-class athlete. On March 4, 1916, he sprinted for a time of 6-3/5 seconds in the 60-meter dash in Boston, Mass. to become the 60-yard dash National Amateur Athletic Union (NAAU) champion.
One year prior to setting his famous 300-yard world record, on March 18, 1916, he tied the existing world record in New York during his trial heat with his mark of 32-1/5 seconds. In the finals, he became the NAAU champion in that event too with his time of 32-2/5 seconds, running the race without track spikes, as noted in a 1916 newspaper article written by Howard Valentine.
"When it came to what his accomplishments were, he would let other people do the talking."
Andrew J. Kelly
A couple days later, Kelly set a pair of New England records during his junior season. On March 20, 1916, he became the New England Intercollegiate Athletic Association (NEIAA) champion in the 100-yard dash, setting a meet record mark of 9-4/5 seconds, just 1/5 of a second behind the world record at the time.
In that same meet, which took place in Springfield, Mass., he also became the NEIAA champion in the 220-yard dash, setting a second meet record with his time of 21-2/5 seconds, again only 1/5 of a second off from the existing world record. Both these New England records stood for at least 40 years.
“After my father ran in the New Englands where he set the two records, the students and the faculty arranged a testimonial banquet to honor my father and his teammate and captain at the time, Joe Higgins, for what they had accomplished,” recalled Andrew J. Kelly.
During his senior year, Kelly anchored the relay team that set the indoor world record in the 1,280-yard relay with a time of 2:28-2/5 seconds at the Coast Artillery Crops Games held at Mechanics Hall in Boston, Mass. The team’s record stood for 13 years.
Kelly’s name read across national headlines on April 13, 1917, as he took on Howard P. Drew, who held the world record in the 100-yard dash with a time of 9-3/5 seconds. Drew, a Springfield, Mass. native and star at the University of California, ran in the 100 and 200-meter sprints at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.
Thousands packed the Thirteenth Regiment Armory in Brooklyn, N.Y. to witness Kelly take on Drew in the Century Special arranged 100-yard dash, as the Holy Cross senior came out on top, winning “by less than a half a foot.”
“As he progressed through the years, he always had the talent, guided by Sullivan,” added Andrew J. Kelly. “He started to peak during his junior year, missed out on the Olympics due to World War I and he set the big world record as a senior. He would have set records in the 440 at the New England Championship but didn’t compete because of complications impacted by the war.”
Throughout his running career, Kelly perhaps missed out on opportunities that would have further expanded his legacy. Kelly’s world-class reputation would eventually lead him to being a prime candidate to run sprints for the U.S. in the 1916 Berlin Olympics that were cancelled due to World War I.
He did not compete in the 1917 NEIAA meet due to “lukewarm interest on account of war,” as stated in a newspaper article from that era. The senior captain was projected by his coach and the community to break records in the 220 and 440-yard dashes at this event.
Kelly enlisted in the Seventh New York regiment, becoming a U.S. Army captain in 1918 and was set to represent his country in the Inter-Allied Games, but suffered a strained tendon injury in a trial run, which prevented him from competing amongst the other veterans.
On January 21, 1956, he was among the first six Crusaders inducted into the Holy Cross Varsity Club’s Hall of Fame, alongside Louis Sockalexis `97, John Barry `10, William Turnesa `38, William Osmanski `39 and Robert Cousy `50.
“I know I’m speaking about my father, but he’s one of the best athletes to ever put on a Holy Cross uniform,” said Andrew J. Kelly. “My father was very modest, and when it came to what his accomplishments were, he would let other people do the talking.”
To support the department of athletics and our student-athletes, please consider making a gift to the Crusader Athletics Fund by clicking here.