Born to an Anglo-Irish family, he was raised in Nenagh, County Tipperary. He had run only six 400m hurdles when he won the gold medal at the 1932 Olympic Games in a world record time of 51.7 seconds, which was not recognised under the rules of time because he had a hit a hurdle. Later , because of this incident, the rules were changed and President of the I.O.C., Juan Antonio Samaranch, presented Bob with a Waterford crystal rose bowl with the image of him knocking over the last hurdle etched into the glass.
As a school boy, at a Shrewsbury boarding school, Bob won the Public Schools 440 yards, and at Cambridge he won a record four events – 440 yards and 120 yards hurdles, long jump and shot – in the annual match against Oxford. This record was only equalled nearly 60 years later. Bob had a chance to compete in five events, but selected Ted Cawston to run for him in the 220yd low hurdles so that ted could receive his "blue". Cawston justified his selection by winning the event that Tisdall had won the previous two years.
Tisdall set South African and Canadian records in the 220 yards low hurdles in 1929, a year later setting Greek records in the same event. While at Cambridge in March 1932, he decided to try for a place in the Irish Olympic squad and after he ran 54.2 seconds (a record) for the Irish Championship 440 yards hurdles in June that year, the authorities agreed to let him run in his new event at the Los Angeles Olympics, where he also came eighth in the decathlon.
In 1928 Ireland ,as an independent nation, had its first Olympic gold medal at Amsterdam with Dr. Pat O'Callaghan's unexpected victory in the Hammer event. At the time he was barely out of the novice class and he had been included in the Irish Team mainly to gain experience of top-class competition. Over the years he was to develop into one of the world's greatest hammer-throwers and he demonstrated this by winning his second Olympic gold medal at Los Angeles in 1932.
This in fact brought a very special moment in Olympic history for Ireland. Within the short space of an hour Ireland won two Olympic gold medals on Monday, August 1st , 1932.
The first was won by Robert Morton Newburgh Tisdall, always known as simply Bob, who, although he was born in Ceylon, was "thoroughly Irish by his lineage." His father won the All-Irish Sprint Championship ; his mother played hockey for Ireland and was a formidable golfer.His Olympic victory had the "element of a fairy tale about it", as one commentator put it.
Bob had, in the midst of The Depression, what he describes as "the best job in the world", as an aide to a young Indian Maharaja, escorting him around Europe, showing him the cultural and natural sights. To pursue his Olympic dream, Bob had to leave this job and live in a disused railway carriage in an orchard, where he trained by running around the rows of trees. Early in 1932, he wrote to General Eoin O'Duffy, then the President of the Irish Olympic Council, and asked to be considered for the Irish Olympic Team in the 400 metres hurdles and he also confessed that he had not previously run in the event.
O'Duffy was comvinced that Bob could achieve a good time and later invited Tisdall to compete in a special Olympic trial at Croke Park in Dublin. Tisdall failed to make the qualifying time, but O'Duffy gave him another chance and Bob Tisdall qualified for the Irish Team by winning the National 440 yards hurdles title at the Irish Championships, also at Croke Park. At the team traing camp, Bob discovered that there were no hurdles, so he collected driftwood from the beach and set up some crude hurdles on the greyhound racing track. This took him much of the morning , but just when he was ready to hurdle, someone activated the mechanical rabbit, which sped around the track rail, promptly knocking all the makeshift hurdles over. Finding out that there were hurdles available at a local girls' school, Bob cycled there and back each day, to use the hurdles, as the students were on vacation
After winning his preliminary Olympic heat in Los Angeles, Bob Tisdall equalled the Olympic record of 52.8 seconds in the semi-finals . As this was the only the fifth time he competed at this event Tisdall says: " I said to myself, 'Well, you've run in the semi-finals and equalled the Olympic record ; Bob, you're really getting the hang of this !"
Then in the final, despite stumbling at the final hurdle, he won the Olympic gold medal in 51.7 seconds which would have been a world record but for the fact that he had knocked over the last hurdle, and under the laws prevailing at the time ,this ruled out recognition of a world record. It is worth noting that four Olympic hurdles champions appeared in that one race. After his victory, Bob was invited to a dinner in L.A. where he was seated next the famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart on one side and the famous actor,Douglas Fairbanks Jnr on the other.
400m Hurdles: Olympic Results 1900 Walter Tewksbury (USA) 57.6s 1904 Harry Hillman (USA) 53.0s 1906 Event not held 1908 Charles Bacon (USA) 55.0s WR 1912 Event not held 1920 Frank Loomis (USA) 54.0s WR 1924 Morgan Taylor (USA) 52.6 1928 David Burghley (GBR) 53.4s 1932 Bob Tisdall (IRL) 51.7s (World record : not recognised)
"At that moment I experienced a strange feeling of loneliness…Everything was strangely quiet…I began to wonder if the rest of the field had fallen over." (-Bob Tisdall, approaching the final hurdle of the 1932 Olympic Games 400m hurdles final, five meters ahead of the field.)
Later in life Bob lived in South Africa, where he ran a gynasium during the day , which he converted to a night club after dark. He grew coffee in Tanzania, but moved to Australia where he grew a fruit crops and cattle where he still lives with his wife Peggy. He admits to running in his last race at the age of 80 and ran in the Sydney Olympic torch relay. At the age of 96 he fell down a steep set of rock stairs and broke his shoulder , ribs and ruptured his spleen. It is perhaps a testament to a lifetime of fitness and physical activity that Bob was able to survive and recover from this fall. (Keith Boyle)