O'Connor, Peter (1872–1957), athlete, was born 24 October 1872 at Millom, Cumberland, the son of Edward O'Connor, a shipwright, and his wife Mary (née O'Brien); he was the third eldest in a family of two boys and nine girls. The O'Connor family had been in Wicklow since 1698, but at the time of O'Connor's birth his father was temporarily employed in England. O'Connor attended Wicklow national school until the age of fourteen, when his formal education ended, as Wicklow had no secondary school for boys and his parents could not afford the expense of sending him to Bray or Dublin. O'Connor soon realised that his lack of secondary education meant that many professions in life were closed to him. His nationalist ideals were formed in these early years, when he came to believe that it was the policy of the British government to neglect the education of catholic boys in late Victorian Ireland.
In 1894 O'Connor went to Clifden, Co. Galway, to take up a position as a clerk in the solicitor's office of Redmond Connolly. In Galway O'Connor got his first taste of competitive amateur athletics, representing Clifden at a sports competition in nearby Cleggan. After the Galway sports in 1895, O'Connor came to the attention of the national sporting press when he was discovered by Edward J. Walsh (qv), a handicapper with the Irish Amateur Athletic Association (IAAA), an organisation with strong establishment and unionist links. O'Connor moved to Mullingar in 1897 to become managing clerk at Nooney's solicitors’ practice. In 1898 Walter Newburn, a unionist from Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo, created a new world record at long jump of 24 ft (7.32 metres), which set O'Connor a challenge. The rivalry of the two athletes over the following years assumed a political dimension, particularly when O'Connor surpassed Newburn's mark on many occasions, only to find his new distances disallowed by the IAAA on technical grounds.
O'Connor made Waterford city his permanent home in 1898, becoming managing clerk for a well-established local solicitor, Daniel Dunford. Waterford had an active athletics scene: on joining the city's Harriers club, O'Connor began to develop a revolutionary jumping style, placing lathes across the jumping pit in training so as to develop a mid-air scissors kick (this was later copied by the black American athlete Jesse Owens). By the 1901 season O'Connor's innovative training regime had paid off: he jumped 24 ft 9 in. (7.54 metres) on 27 May at the IAAA championships at Ballsbridge, Dublin; 24 ft 11.25 in. (7.60 metres) in a meeting at Kilkenny on 15 July; and 24 ft 11.75 in. (7.61 metres) at the RIC sports meeting at Ballsbridge. All three jumps were ratified as Irish records and constituted world's best performances; his final mark of 24 ft 11.75 in. (7.61 metres) was adopted as the inaugural official world record by the newly-founded world governing body, the IAAF, in 1913, surviving until 1921; it also became the longest-standing national record of all time, being broken by an Irishman only in 1990. A few days after setting this record, O'Connor travelled to America to compete in the world championships at Buffalo, New York (held in conjunction with the Pan-American exposition), at the invitation of an Irish-American club based at Celtic Park in the borough of Queens, New York. O'Connor was the subject of intense media coverage in American newspapers, which may have contributed to the hysteria and pandemonium that occurred during his first appearance at Celtic Park, where an unruly crowd inadvertently caused him to injure himself. He was barely able to jump at Buffalo, but competed – against doctors’ orders – and won with a meagre jump of 22 ft 5 in. (6.83 metres).
On his return to Waterford, O'Connor began to court Margaret Halley, the daughter of James Halley, a wealthy landowner and farmer in Co. Waterford. Halley deemed O'Connor an inappropriate suitor and gave the executors of his will the right to disinherit any of his children marrying anyone of whom they disapproved. In 1904, six months after James Halley's death, O'Connor and Margaret eloped to Dublin and were married at Westland Row; they had a family of five sons and four daughters.
Owing to the difficulties surrounding his marriage, O'Connor did not travel to the St. Louis Olympic games in 1904; nor had he participated at Paris in 1900, as he did not wish to compete as part of the British team. In 1906 the opportunity presented itself to compete at the intercalated games in Athens, and O'Connor travelled to Greece determined to represent Ireland; he won the gold medal in the hop, step, and jump, and silver in the long jump. In Athens O'Connor made a sensational political protest against the British crown, the first of its kind in the modern Olympics: when the union flag was raised to mark the presentation of his silver medal, he climbed a twenty-foot pole and hoisted a green flag emblazoned with the words ‘Erin go brath’ (‘Ireland for ever’). His protest was an act of open defiance against the British royal family, members of which were present, and a direct snub to the chief organiser of the games, Prince George of Greece, who had insisted that Irish athletes had to compete for Great Britain or not at all. After Athens O'Connor won his sixth consecutive English Amateur Athletics Association long jump title and then retired from competition to concentrate on his legal career. He retained a lifelong passion for amateur athletics and in 1909, assisted by his fellow sportsman Maurice Davin (qv), made an (unsuccessful) attempt to heal the rift in Irish athletics caused by a falling out between the GAA and the IAAA.
After qualifying as a solicitor in 1912 O'Connor took over Dunford's practice and in 1932 was made vice-president of the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland. He travelled to every Olympic games from Athens onwards until London in 1948, leaving behind memorable accounts of the 1932 Los Angeles games, at which he was an official judge and delegate, and those at Berlin in 1936. O'Connor died 9 November 1957 at his home, Upton in Newtown, Waterford city.