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A St. Patrick’s Day Toast to Irish Runners Marcus O’Sullivan and Eamonn Coghlan
A week before St. Patrick’s Day I bought a pair of Saucony Kilkinney cross country racing flats. They are a bright Irish green and come off like neon lights.
It reminds me of the Sports Illustrated magazine cover I have on my office wall recording the moment from 1994 when Eamonn Coghlan broke the tape at the finish line to become the first man to 40 years running a sub-four-minute mile.
Any day is a good day to raise a glass of Jameson Irish whiskey to the likes of Marcus O’Sullivan and Eamonn Coghlan, but an even better day is when it’s St. Patrick’s Day.
Before I honor these two Irish running legends let me first acknowledge another Irish middle distance runner: Ron Delany.
Delany ran into legendary coach Jim “Jumbo” Elliott at Villanova, a Roman Catholic school in the tradition of St. Augustine in Pennsylvania.
Delany became the seventh member of the 4-Minute-Mile Club, but still struggled to make the Irish team for the 1956 Olympics. When he arrived in Melbourne, he qualified for the 1,500 meter final in which the Australian runner John Landy was unfazed.
Landy was set as Delany fell behind until the bell rang when he ran a brilliant 53.8 split to set the then Olympic record and take home Ireland’s first gold medal in 24 years.
I believe this is the best Irish medieval tradition has ever gained wings. I was 12 in 1956, Eamonn Coghlan was 4 and Marcus O’Sullivan was born 5 years later.
Delany would go on to win 4 consecutive AAU titles in the mile, another 4 Irish Nationals and 3 NCAA titles for Villanova and Jumbo Elliott.
Marcus O’Sullivan could not enter the Irish universities in his time, but will soon become an international competitor for Jumbo Elliott of Villanova.
He would win 3 world indoor 1,500 meter titles, compete for Ireland in 4 Olympic games in 12 years, and run 101 sub-4-miniute-miles.
O’Sullivan is generally considered a better indoor than outdoor miler, winning the prestigious Wanamaker Mile in the Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden 5 times and setting the world indoor 1,500 meter record. record in 1989 with a time of 3:35.4.
His personal best for the mile—3:50.96—was set indoors in 1987, and his personal best for 1,500 meters was 3:33.65 in 1992.
After his track career, O’Sullivan returned to Villanova and remains today as Villanova’s Head Coach for Cross Country and Track.
Guess who also ran for Jumbo Elliott at Villanova? Eamonn Coghlan won 4 NCAA titles at Villanova in the 1,500 or mile.
Coghlan ran his first sub-4-minute-mile in 1975, setting a new Irish record in 3:53.2.
Like Frank Sinatra in other fields, Eamonn Coghlan would become known as “The Chairman of the Board” because of his success at the inner workings. He won the Wanamaker Mile a record 7 times from 1977 to 1987 at the Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden.
Coghlan set the world record in the indoor mile at 3:50.6 in 1981 and again at 3:49.78 in 1983, a record that would stand for 14 years until Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj ran 3 : 48.45 in 1997. Coghlan’s 1983 time remains. fastest mile ever run in the United States, and 1 of only 3 sub-3:50 miles run on American soil.
Coghlan won the world outdoor title at 5,000 meters in 1983, but he has shown disastrous results indoors. Coghlan is small compared to many of his competitors and perhaps his size gave him a minuscule advantage negotiating the tight turns of the home boards.
He also proved that he could go the distance, setting the record for the indoor 2,000 meters in 1987 at 4:54.07, which stood for 11 years until Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia ripped off the 4: 52.86 in 1998.
Coghlan also had a bit of Irish mischievousness in him when he won the 5,000 meters at the world outdoor championships in 1983. He looked at his Russian rival ahead of him with delight as he hit the last bend before the end, knowing that he can outsprint it. , and immediately ran the Russians into the ground as he blew to win.
Eamonn Coghlan’s personal bests are eye-catching: 800 meters (1:47.0), 1,500m (3:35.6), 1 Mile (3:49.78), 3,000m (7:36.6), 5,000m (13:19.11 ), 10,000 (28:09) and even Marathon (2.25:13).
His two fourth place finishes at 1,500 meters in the 1976 Olympic Games and at 5,000 meters in the 1980 Olympic Games did nothing to improve his performance.
He more than made up for it in 1994 when he returned to the board at Harvard’s Albert J. Gordon indoor track and became the first man over 40 to break 4 minutes for the mile, running a a surprise 3:58.15 indoors.
Coghlan was 41 years old on the day he set the record. He ran more than twice as fast as Englishman Roger Bannister in 1954 when he became the first to break the 4-minute-mile barrier on an outdoor track.
It is an amazing moment in history and history. Here’s a 40+ man who set the world indoor record of 3:49.78 in his prime, ran 74 sub-4-minute-miles, won 11 Irish titles and spent 30 years running the race when it came to his last name as a fan. happy for him.
Eamonn Coghlan, like many times before, came flying out of the last turn and sprinted to the tape and, as they say, the rest is history.
“It’s normal,” said Coghlan after the match. “The last two laps brought it back to me. My ears hurt from all the excitement, but my legs responded.”
He cites breaking the 4-minute-mile barrier indoors at 41 as his proudest time, even better than the world record and string of Wanamaker Mile wins at the Millrose Games.
It is my opinion that the memories of the Irish middlemen of the race run out beyond their records. Long live Ireland (Erin Go Bragh!) and run on green.
Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley
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