Phil Conley had a simple explanation of how he changed from a mediocre high school athlete to a four-sport star at Cal Tech College and an Olympic javelin thrower. Conley was the best player on the Fresno High School tennis team, a standout on the school’s volleyball club, and a member of the Class B football squad. He added varsity basketball in his senior year. "Serving tennis with a straight overhand motion, hitting a volleyball, and throwing a football all have the same natural motion as throwing the javelin," Conley said during an interview. "I would go out on the football field at Cal Tech and throw the football and each time I would throw it a little further. (Former UCLA coach) Bert LaBrucherie was the Cal Tech football coach and, as he watched me throw, suggested I try the javelin. It was absolutely fortunate. At that time, most of our best javelin throwers had never touched one [before coming to Cal Tech] because they [javelins] weren’t allowed in California high schools. I went over to a nearby field and threw for the first time and it really took off. It starts with your legs and then the throwing motion."
The 6’3", 200-pound Conley was an instant star at Cal Tech in football, basketball, baseball, and track. By his senior year, he captained all but the baseball team. He was unbeaten in javelin and other track events. "One interesting part of Cal Tech football was that our home field was the Rose Bowl, so I played fifteen games in the Rose Bowl," Conley said. The team would get maybe 3,000 to 4,000 people for a big game. Conley won the NCAA javelin event in 1956, the same year that he made the United States Olympic team for the Olympiad in Melbourne, Australia. He finished third in the national AAU meet held in the rain and mud in Chicago with a throw of 235’10". "I have read articles which point out it takes more coordination to be a javelin thrower than in any other track event," he said during a 1958 interview. "If that’s true, I know participating in other sports helped a great deal." Conley threw 251 feet in the Olympic Trials and justified his place on the team by finishing tenth in the Games, better than either of his teammates, Cy Young and Benny Garcia. Conley’s best was 260’2 ½" in 1964, and for the years 1956 to 1965, he was an AAU medalist who ranked in the javelin top ten in the U.S., finishing at sixth or higher every year but one.
Among his wins were the Fresno West Coast Relays, Drake Relays, Mt. San Antonio Relays, U.S. Army, Quantico Relays, Compton Relays, and the Pacific AAU. In 1973 at thirty-nine, he set an American age group javelin record. Conley opened the 1957 season by breaking the Southern California AAU meet record by nine feet with a throw of 243’4". He made the 1959 Pan American team where he was a silver medalist. From 1972 to 1974, he competed in six marathons and eighty-one races of more than six miles. He earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree at Cal Tech and a Master’s of Business Administration from Harvard. Conley’s wife, Fran, won the Bay to Breakers 17.3-mile run in 1971. She met Phil after asking Bill Toomey, who later became an Olympic decathlon champion, to find someone to give her advice on javelin throwing. Toomey introduced her to Phil and the rest was history. Fran went on to become a noted brain surgeon at Stanford University Hospital. Conley and his wife now live in Stewarts Point, California on the Mendocino/Sonoma coastline almost surrounded by water.