Coghlan follows in father's footsteps


ATHLETICS: LIKE FATHER like son is easier said than done, especially when running under four minutes for the mile. It may be partly hereditary, but John Coghlan had to make every split second count in Boston on Saturday night to join the still exclusive club – and with that write his own little piece of Irish distance running history.

Within moments of crossing the line in third at the Terrier Indoor Invitational at Boston University, Coghlan saw his finishing time flash up: 3:59.32. One small step towards replicating the achievements of his father, Eamonn – and yes, at the age of 23, one giant leap in his career.

They thus become the first Irish father-son combination to crack the magical barrier, and join a select duo of fathers and sons from around the world. Coghlan, the younger, was quick to point out that he still has a long way to go towards replicating Coghlan, the elder, but in the meantime it’s a reminder that Irish distance running is still in good hands.

Indeed victory on the night went to 23-year-old David McCarthy, from Waterford, who also improved his previous mile best of 3:57.75 to a very impressive 3:55.75 – the Boston track record and second fastest in the world this year. McCarthy, in his final season of eligibility at Providence College, ran a perfectly executed race, sitting in behind the pacemaker before gunning for the tape with 400 metres remaining.

For Coghlan, who took time out from his studies at Dublin City University for a brief tour of the US Indoor circuit, and stayed with McCarthy in Providence last week, the race proved equally satisfying: he’d run 4:00.79 outdoors last summer, and “came over here to run under four,” he admitted. “That was the object of the game. I came over here because you’ll always get better quality races.”

Mission accomplished: “Of course, every runner still loves to break that four minutes. And the fact that my dad did it so many times, and was one of the best over the mile, especially indoors. So just to start to replicate him, and even do half of what he did, would be just great.”

Given his limited indoor experience it certainly augers well for the rest of the season, and beyond: both Coghlan and McCarthy were part of the Irish team that won the under-23 team gold at the European Cross Country in 2010, and with continued progression, could yet achieve London Olympic qualification, and the 1,500 metres A-standard of 3:35.50 (McCarthy’s 3:55 roughly equates to a 3:38).

On hearing the news, Coghlan was inevitably proud of his son: “To do it in your very first race of the indoor season is never easy,” he said, speaking from considerable experience (Coghlan ran his first sub-four at 22.). “John has also done very little speed work so far this season, so I think he can actually go faster in the next few weeks.”

Coghlan has two more indoor races lined up, including the Millrose Games in New York – where his father famously earned himself the title “Chairman of the Boards”. Now aged 59, Coghlan retired with 83 sub-four times to his name, including a 3:49.78 – the second fastest indoors of all time – plus the only sub-four ever by an over 40-year-old, so it’s still early days to start comparing the mile careers of this father and son.

But for now there is the distinct comparison with two-time Olympic champion Kip Keino from Kenya, and his son Martin – who were the first father-son combination to run sub-four, and suggest that maybe it is more than just partly hereditary after all.