Limerick athlete who struck gold as a marathon runner

Jim Hogan: May 28th, 1933 - January 10th, 2014

Jim Hogan, who has died aged 81, was the only Irish winner of the European marathon title, which he won while wearing a British singlet in 1966. He had previously represented Ireland at the 1964 Olympic Games, while he ran the marathon for Britain at the 1968 games in Mexico.

Reporting on the 1964 Tokyo marathon for The Irish Times, Ronnie Delany wrote that Hogan "dropped out exhausted at the 22 mile stage after a brave but futile effort to match strides with the champion Abebe".

In 1968 he completed the marathon in Mexico, again won by Abebe Bikila, finishing 26th of over 30 runners.

He was highly regarded by fellow athletes. Olympian Tom O'Riordan remembered him as a "fearless athlete", though an "awful man to swear". Former European 800-metres record-holder the late Noel Carroll described him as a "magnificent runner".

Former 10,000-metres world record holder David Bedford, who attended Hogan's funeral in Athlacca last Monday, viewed him as a "man after my own heart when it came to training and racing".

Changed name

Hogan was born James Cregan in Croom, Co Limerick, in 1933, one of nine children of Michael and

Margaret Cregan

of Athlacca, Co Limerick. He later changed his name by deed poll under the mistaken impression that as a former National Athletic and Cycling Association (NACA) athlete he could not compete in England.

He took up cross-country running in early 1952 and quickly made his mark, becoming Irish five-mile champion that year. A front-runner, he competed barefoot and won a total of 12 Irish championships under the NACA banner.

The NACA was a 32-county body which did not enjoy international recognition. Hence only Irish athletes affiliated to the Amateur Athletic Union, a 26-county body, could compete internationally.

In 1959 Hogan left Ireland to find work in England. It was an easy decision for him to take, as he wrote in his memoir: “There were no jobs and the country was riddled with class distinction.”

On the track

After working with an on-course bookie and an insurance company he was employed as a groundsman by Brentford and Chiswick council. The job suited him perfectly as he was allowed to take time off to train and compete at athletics meetings.

He joined Polytechnic Harriers, and soon made a name for himself. Selected to represent Ireland at the European championships in Belgrade in 1962, he ran in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres. However, he was forced to drop out of both races.

He bounced back in the following year to break the Irish three-mile record, as well as the British six-mile record.

In 1964 he was delighted to be selected for the Irish athletics team at the Tokyo Olympics. “It will be the climax of my running career and I feel sure that I can do justice to my selection,” he said.

He competed in both the 10,000 metres and marathon. Forced to drop out of the former race with a “very bad stitch”, he nevertheless acquitted himself well in the marathon. Withdrawing at the 23-mile mark with dehydration, he was taken on a stretcher to the Olympic hospital.

David Guiney reported in the Irish Press: "No one tried harder and more courageously today in his bid to win us an Olympic medal in the marathon."

However, in 1965 he declared for Great Britain, complaining of the “meanness of Irish officials” after a row over an air fare. Also that year, he broke the British 10,000 metre record at White City, his favourite running track.

Proud moment

He won the marathon for Britain at the European championships in Budapest in 1966. He remembered the medal ceremony as a “proud moment” that he would treasure forever.

He retired in 1969. He returned to competitive running at the world veteran championships in 1983, winning the 5,000 metres final and finishing third in the cross-country race. But on the whole he had little regard for the veteran scene.

Interested in horses from an early age, he once considered a career as a jump jockey but stuck with athletics. On his return to Ireland in 1995 he settled in Knocklong, Co Limerick, and rode out for a number of trainers. He then became involved in breaking horses for owners and preparing horses for sale. He subsequently bought and sold horses on his own account.

He enjoyed some success as an owner, notably with Marathon Leader, who won the Listowel Castle maiden hurdle in 2009. He is survived by his brother, Mickey Joe Cregan, and seven sisters, Mary, Margaret, Elizabeth, Johannah, Teresa, Hanora and Frances.

His wife, Mary Murphy, predeceased him.