Obituaries Obituaries





Posted on Wed, Nov. 20, 2002 story:PUB_DESC
Olympic runner Kim Gallagher dead of a stroke
The Philadelphian, who won medals in the 1984 and 1988 Games, was 38.


Inquirer Staff Writer
Kim Gallagher (left), running in the 800-meter race at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. She won the silver medal in 1984 and the bronze in 88.
Kim Gallagher (left), running in the 800-meter race at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. She won the silver medal in 1984 and the bronze in 88.

Kim Gallagher, the willowy and precocious high school middle-distance runner who went on to win medals in both the 1984 and 1988 Olympic Games, died of a stroke Monday afternoon at Roxborough Memorial Hospital. She was 38.

The predisposing cause of death was stomach cancer, which was diagnosed in 1995. It was not made public until a year later, because, friends said, Ms. Gallagher did not want any unsolicited sympathy.

Ms. Gallagher, who lived in Oreland, Montgomery County, suffered the first of two strokes in August.

"At that time, I went over and talked to her, and she could speak pretty clearly," Larry Wilson, Ms. Gallagher's coach at the Ambler Track Club, said yesterday.

When he returned two weeks ago after hearing that Ms. Gallagher had suffered another stroke earlier this month, "I saw her, and she didn't even know I was there," Wilson said.

"Even when she found out she had cancer, she was very upbeat about it," he said. "It's just sad to see someone so young pass away."

Kimberly Ann Gallagher was born during an Olympics year, on June 11, 1964, in Philadelphia, and the driving force through most of her life was to become an Olympic athlete.

She did that for the first time in 1984, the year she won the women's 800-meter final in the U.S. Olympic trials as a prelude to a silver-medal finish at the Los Angeles Summer Games.

Four years later, in what some observers considered a bigger achievement, Ms. Gallagher won the bronze medal for the 800 meters during the Games in Seoul, South Korea. Her time in that Olympics final was 1 minute, 56.91 seconds, a personal best that still ranks No. 3 on the all-time U.S. performance list, behind Jearl Miles-Clark and Mary Decker Slaney.

In a pre-Olympics meet held in September 1988, Ms. Gallagher established her personal record for 1,500 meters at 4:03.29. That time would have won first place in the U.S. Olympic trials two years ago.

Gallagher still holds the national high school records in both the 800 meters and 1,500 meters, 20 years after she set them for Upper Dublin High School.

If Ms. Gallagher dreamed heroically, she was validated by her talent, which surfaced at age 7.

Patti Boyce, one of Ms. Gallagher's coaches at Upper Dublin, once told The Inquirer: "The first time I saw her was at an AAU meet. It was a 9-and-under mile, and when the gun went off, a little girl with a braided ponytail took off like a bolt. I watched and thought, 'Good God Almighty!' "

Jon Hendershott, an associate editor of Track and Field News, rated Ms. Gallagher's bronze-medal performance in Seoul as the greater of her Olympian achievements because the 1984 silver medal came in a boycotted Olympics.

Dave Johnson, the director of the Penn Relays, said: "She may have won two Olympic medals in the 800, but she never hit her right event. I remember up at State College [Pa.], in her [high school] freshman year, when she tore apart the PIAA cross-country championships. I told her, 'You ought to be a distance runner; the heck with this sprinting stuff like the 800.'

"She'd laugh and say, 'Ah, well.' "

"She was so good so young," said Villanova women's cross-country coach Gina Procaccio, who competed at Sun Valley High School at the same time that Ms. Gallagher was running at Upper Dublin. "You could tell even back then how good she was."

In Johnson's view, Ms. Gallagher and hurdler Candy Young were the greatest female athletes to come out of Pennsylvania.

"She was one of those miracle kids who went against the odds and kept getting better," Johnson said.

In the 1979 Penn Relays, as a 15-year-old, Ms. Gallagher won the high school girls' one-mile run in 4:49.2 - which still stands as the record for the event.

Ms. Gallagher was an inaugural member of the Pennsylvania Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1995 and became a member ofthe Penn Relays Wall of Fame in 1996.

She briefly attended the University of Arizona in 1983, but never really started a collegiate career. She left Tucson for the Los Angeles area to train for the '84 Olympics under Chuck Debus.

It was an unfortunate association, even though Debus helped Ms. Gallagher realize her Olympian moments.

Debus, who had been fired by UCLA for inappropriate behavior toward his athletes in the 1970s, later was banned for life by USA Track and Field, the national governing body for the sport, for giving steroids and other banned substances to his athletes.

Ms. Gallagher insisted that she never took steroids.

"They weren't for kids," she said. "I liked my looks too much."

Ms. Gallagher is survived by her mother, Barbara; her father, John; her husband, John Corcoran; and her 13-year-old daughter, Jessica Smith.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Malachy's Roman Catholic Church, 1429 N. 11th St.

Donations can be sent to the Jessica Smith Trust Fund, 1037 N. 67th St., Philadelphia 19151.


Contact Ron Reid at 215-854-4469 or rreid@phillynews.com. Staff writers Don McKee, Todd Zolecki, Jay Nagle and Frank Fitzpatrick contributed to this article.
 

Kim Gallagher's Feats


National UnbrokenHigh School Records (Upper Dublin)

Event

Time

Site

Date

800 meters

2:00.07

Indianapolis

June 24, 1982

1500 meters

4:16.6

Villanova   

June 12, 1982

 

National Champion

Event

Time

Site

Date

800 meters

1:59.87

San Jose, Calif. 

June 9, 1984

1500 meters

4:08.08

San Jose, Calif.

June 9, 1984

Olympic Games

Event

Medal

Time

Site

Date

800 meters

Silver

1:58.63

Los Angeles 

Aug. 6, 1984

800 meters

Bronze

1:56.91 

Seoul, Korea

Sept. 25, 1988

In the 1979 Penn Relays, as a 15-year-old, Ms. Gallagher won the high school girls' one-mile run in 4:49.2 - which still stands as the record for the event.