New golden era looks to be on the right track
ATHLETICS:I bumped into Kevin Nolan this week, a man who has forgotten more about Dublin GAA than I’ll ever know, but whose total recall of Irish athletics begins around 1980, then finishes six or seven years later.
In that sense he’s certainly not alone. He’d heard about this new indoor track just opened in Athlone, and we began mainlining the nostalgia like two hopeless junkies, those dreamy Saturday mornings, waking up to the reruns of Eamonn Coghlan, Ray Flynn, Marcus O’Sullivan, on the boards at the Meadowlands, Madison Square Garden, the Millrose Games, and another Wanamaker Mile won by an Irishman.
We could remember the commentary of Coghlan’s world indoor mile record, in 1983, when he burnt off, from the front, an all-star field, clocked 3:49.78, which stood for 14 years before it was finally broken by Hicham El Guerrouj, and still we promised to watch it all over again on YouTube that night.
And wasn’t it 1987, the first World Indoor Championships in Indianapolis, when Ireland sent a team of four athletes, and Coghlan – the gold medal favourite – fell in the 1,500 metres, only for O’Sullivan to win gold anyway, before Frank O’Mara and Paul Donovan went one-two in the 3,000 metres?
“Someone needs to write the book, even make the film”, we agreed, the only problem with that being this so-called golden era of Irish indoor running didn’t just begin in 1980, nor finish six or seven years later. It began 30 years earlier, in 1950, when John Joe Barry, better known as the Ballincurry Hare, won the US indoor mile, paving the way for a generation of great indoor milers.
Then, Ronnie Delany, having followed Barry to Villanova, won his first indoor race in 1956, went unbeaten indoors over the mile until March 1959 – also breaking the world indoor mile record on three separate occasions, lowering it to 4:01.4, in 1959.
This continued during the 1960s, the likes of Frank Murphy, and Noel Carroll, who helped Villanova break a world indoor record in the 4x800m, and there’s a picture in my parent’s house of another Irishman setting a European indoor three-mile record, of 13:38.0, in the old Madison Square Garden.
Then Coghlan arrived, in 1974, promoted to Chairman of the Boards: he also broke the world indoor mile record three times, won a then record seven Wanamaker Miles, averaging 3:55.79, won 52 of his 70 indoor races, then famously came back in 1994 to run the still only sub-four minute mile indoors by a man over the age of 40.
Indeed, the only man that comes close to Coghlan’s indoor record is Marcus O’Sullivan, who won six Wanamaker Miles, three World Indoor 1,500m titles, and one of only three men on the planet to run more than 100 sub-four minute miles, 47 of which were actually run indoors.