James Donald (Hamish) Irons
Born: September 22, 1937
Died: January 18, 2014 (Owen Sound, Ontario)
Member: Brampton (Ont.) Sports Hall of Fame (1985)
Jim Irons, a world-class miler, competed for Canada at both the Commonwealth and Pan American Games. A diligent pursuit of the four-minute mile brought him tantalizingly close to breaking the barrier.
In qualifying for the 1962 Commonwealth Games in a meet at East York stadium in Toronto, Irons posted a 4:04.2 time, the fastest mile run on Canadian soil by a Canadian at the time. He came third in his heat at the Games in Perth, Australia, but struggled in the finals, finishing eighth of nine runners. In poor conditions, including gusty winds, Peter Snell of New Zealand took the gold in 4:04.58. Irons finished in 4:17.52, nearly seven seconds slower than his time in the heats. The field “maintained an almost funeral pace,” wrote Jack Sullivan, sports editor of Canadian Press.
Irons, 24, was a trainee sanitary inspector in his hometown of Brampton, Ont. He had originally been granted a month’s leave at half pay for the Games. County council later decided to pay him full wages during his absence.
Before the Games, Irons joined other runners in a 47-mile relay road race from Hamilton, Ont., to Toronto to raise funds for the United Appeal. The 29 runners ran along Highway 2, Lake Shore Boulevard and north on Bay Street to Toronto City Hall. Irons, racing for Toronto, was given the honour of the final mile, loping up the steps to shake hands with Toronto mayor Nathan Phillips.
Irons was an original member of the Toronto Olympic Club, founded in 1954.
The runner went undefeated as a Canadian juvenile and junior at distances from a half-mile to two miles. He set a Canadian junior record in the mile, later smashed by Bruce Kidd.
As a 19-year-old, the student from Brampton High tied the U.S. schoolboy record by running the mile in 4:22.7 at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1957. “Irons disclosed a great closing kick,” the New York Times reported. “He overwhelmed the opposition with his burst at the finish.”
Irons won 13 provincial and national titles in a 14-year running career.
His best indoor time in the mile was 4:01.9, set in 1963, while his best outdoor time was the 4:04.2 he managed in the 1962 Commonwealth qualifying track meet in Toronto.
Irons also played a role as a pacesetting “rabbit” imported to help a Loyola University Chicago student set a new world record.
At Chicago Stadium in 1964, Irons served as a pacemaker, running the quarter in 0:58.5 and the half in 1:58.8 before fading, as Jim O’Hara a rake-thin accountancy student completed a 3:56.4 indoor mile, breaking his own world indoor record by one-fifth of a second. O’Hara’s record stood for 14 years.