LOS ANGELES – Harold Connolly, who at the 1956 Olympics captured the gold medal in the hammer throw as well as the attention of the world for his Cold War romance with the discus champion from Czechoslovakia, died Wednesday. He was 79.

His accomplishments helped place the United States at the forefront of an event in which the country had struggled to be competitive.

His achievements were all the more impressive because he had only one fully functional arm in a sport that usually demands two.

Because of an accident during his birth, Connolly’s left arm had limited motion and was 4 inches shorter than his right.

“Harold inspired countless Americans with his ability to overcome physical hardship en route to sporting excellence,” Scott Blackmun, chief executive of the U.S. Olympic Committee, told the Los Angeles Times.

But his romance with Olga Fikotova, gold medalist in the discus, garnered the headlines. Their romance captivated a world hungry for a thaw in U.S.-Soviet relations.

When Czech officials spirited her away, Connolly tracked her down in her native country and they were allowed to marry. A crowd estimated at 40,000 attended their 1957 civil ceremony in Prague.

For about 30 years, Connolly taught at Santa Monica High School, where he coached the track team and added sports literature to the English curriculum.