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John B. Kelly of Philadelphia, PA, the son of immigrant parents, in 1920 applied to race in the Henley Royal Regatta (Henley, England), the most prestigious rowing event in the world. He was turned down ‘because he was a bricklayer’ and so chose to go to the Olympics ‘to get a crack at the man who wins diamond sculls’ — the British sculler Jack Beresford. Kelly got his revenge by beating Beresford, the most talented oarsman of the day. The race was one of the closest in Olympic history with Kelly winning by a second. Beresford went on to medal at five Olympics, and the two men became good friends. A half-hour after Kelly won the single scull event, he teamed up with his cousin Paul Costello to win the double scull race, a feat which has never been repeated at the Olympic games. After his victory, Kelly mailed his racing cap to King George with a note, “Greetings from a bricklayer.”

In 1924 Kelly and Costello won the double scull at the Olympics in Paris. This made Kelly the first rower to win three Olympic gold medals. His son Jack represented the U.S. at the 1948, 1952, 1956 and 1960 Olympic games. He won the bronze at the 1956 games. Jack Jr. later was appointed President of the U.S. Olympic Committee. His daughter Grace married Prince Rainier of Monaco, and Kelly purportedly gave $2 million as a dowry. Not bad for an Irish bricklayer!

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