Indifference to Cragg's time a sign of the times


ATHLETICS: There is no formal start to the track-and-field season. It can come quietly knocking or break the door down, a bit like Alistair Cragg did when setting an Irish 10,000-metre record in California two weeks ago. This was an entirely unexpected run and so passed most people by.

By way of reminder, Cragg ran 27 minutes 39.55 seconds, knocking a good chunk off the previous Irish record, the 27:46.82 Mark Carroll ran on the same Stanford University track seven years earlier, and an even greater chunk off Cragg's previous best, 28:20.29. It also went well under the Olympic A standard and was as promising a start to the season as Cragg could have hoped for.

Anyone who has run a 10km would appreciate the effort involved in posting 27:39.55. It's very, very quick. When the great Australian Ron Clarke set his third world record at the distance in 1965 he ran an almost identical 27:39.4, and that stood until Lasse Viren lowered it to 27:38.4 when winning Olympic gold in Munich in 1972.

Maybe if Cragg had run 27:39.55 in Dublin people would have noticed. It also seems he has yet to be fully embraced by the Irish public. Yes he was born in South Africa and is based mostly in the US, but Cragg takes immense pride in the green vest.

He showed it when finishing 12th in the Olympic 5,000 metres in Athens, when striking European Indoor gold in 2005, when chasing European outdoor gold in Gothenburg last summer, a quest that failed partly because of the pressure Cragg had put himself under.

Two weeks ago he ran a world-class time and it was like few in his own country cared.

It used to be that breaking an Irish distance record was big news.

There is, however, one record likely to make headlines the day it falls - the 1,500 metres/mile mark that for 25 years has belonged to Ray Flynn. It's not simply because it's the oldest men's Irish record on the track, but also because the 1,500 metres/mile still has some magical element to it.

When Flynn lined up for the Dream Mile in Oslo on July 7th, 1982, he knew it was the golden era of the mile - and that race featured such greats as John Walker of New Zealand and Steve Scott of the US.

Two weeks earlier Flynn had run 3:50.54, and his ambition coming to Oslo was to run sub-3:50. After some standard pacemaking, Walker, Scott and Flynn broke clear. They passed 800 metres in 1:52.7 and the bell in 2:51.4. Scott took the win in 3:47.69, an American record. Walker took second in 3:49.08, a New Zealand record. And Flynn took third in 3:49.77, an Irish record. Incredibly, all three records still stand. In addition Flynn's time at 1,500 metres was 3:33.5, which also still stands as the Irish record.

In February 1983, Eamonn Coghlan ran a world indoor record of 3:49.78, still a whisker short of Flynn's outdoor mark. No Irishman has run sub-3:50 since, the closest being Carroll's 3:50.62 seven years ago, also in Oslo.

"Of course I'm a little surprised that record still stands 25 years later," says Flynn. "But having said that, I wouldn't be surprised if it lasts another 25 years. One of the main reasons I ran so fast was from racing so much at that level. And that's what it's all about. The reality is we don't have Irish milers . . . competing at that level anymore."

Since retiring in 1990 Flynn has been a leading athletics agent, based in Tennessee. Yet as with Cragg's recent heroics, his record also failed to impress certain people.

There is a story about him returning to his native Longford soon after his 3:49.77 and someone casually asking him where he had been all those years since "heading to America to pursue that running game . . ."

If someone does ever break Flynn's record he is likely to hear similar questions. Especially if, like Cragg, he is what some like to call an import. And given present social trends, the runner in question is more than likely to be such an import.