Andrew Coscoran confident time is on his side in bid to chase down record

It’s 38 years on Tuesday since Ray Flynn set the Irish record on Dream Mile night in Oslo

It's Dream Mile night, Oslo, and at the bell Ray Flynn is right on the heels of John Walker and Steve Scott, all three running somewhere around world record pace.

Down the backstretch, the Bislett Stadium heaving, Scott moves in front, and with that Flynn gives chase in second, all three still flying. The time they have to beat is Seb Coe’s 3:47.33, set the year before, and it’s close.

Into the homestretch and Scott now has a five-metre lead, which the American extends to the line in 3:47.96, just missing the world record, still the second fastest mile in history. Walker comes back to take second in 3:49.08, Flynn two strides back in 3:49.77 – all three setting national mile records.

The year is 1982, and the fact two of those records still stand 38 years later – this Tuesday, to be exact – is both a measure and reminder of their greatness: Scott eventually lost his American record to Alan Webb, who ran 3:46.91 in 2007, Flynn's 3:49.77, the first sub-3:50 by an Irish athlete, is still the Irish mile record; Walker's 3:49.08 also still unbeaten in New Zealand.


Better still for Flynn, he was clocked at 3:33.5 at 1,500 metres, in the same race, which also still stands as the Irish record at that distance, the then 25-year-old from Longford hardly once imagining those times would hold up for so long.

“One of the main reasons I ran so fast was from racing so much at that level,” Flynn later recalled in this newspaper. Between 1981 and 1983, he ran 44 sub-four minute miles. “That’s what it’s all about. The more races you get at that level the faster you start believing you can go. And I always thought secretly that I was going to break 3:50 that day.”

In the 38 years since, several generations of Irish athletes have presented themselves as record contenders, Ciarán Ó Lionáird’s 3:34.46 (a 3:51.5 mile, in old money), run in 2011, the closest of the last decade.

Now into that line steps Andrew Coscoran, just turned 24, and who believes he has time and determination on his side.

"Definitely not," says Coscoran when asked if that 3:33.5, and 3:49.77, set long before he was born, remain dream-like times. "Of course, looking back at the times Eamonn Coghlan, Ray Flynn, ran back in the day, they are unbelievable.

“I don’t know if our training is better, we probably do a lot of the same training, but our technology, our track surfaces, our recovery methods, we have the capability of running that fast. At the moment we’re not, but it’s something that we’re definitely targeting.”

Coscoran emphasises the "we" and has previously credited his 2020 breakthrough to the group-training philosophy of the Dublin Track Club (DTC), set up by his coach Feidhlim Kelly.

“I think at the moment, with the Dublin Track Club, there’s a lot of us at that standard, to run these times. At times it is frustrating, that we can’t yet do it, but every day in training, well personally I am thinking, can I break that record? Can I make that jump up in performance? There’s no reason that I can’t. We should definitely be getting close to it, and try to use that great tradition to bring us back to that standard, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

These aren't the oldest Irish records in the books: Colm Cronin's Irish triple-jump record of 15.89 metres turns 43 this summer, and the still seemingly unreachable discus record of 57.60 metres was set by Patricia Walsh in 1984. But momentum, as every distance runner will tell you, is everything, and Coscoran was rolling in it pre-lockdown. On the opening Sunday in March, he won his first national title over 1,500m at the Irish Indoors, clocking 3:41.36, a new championship record after 14 years. In February, he ran the fastest Irish indoor mile in six years with his 3:56.85 in Boston, followed that up with a 3:37.98 for 1,500m, before clocking another 3:57.83 at the famed Wanamaker Mile.

The lack of elite racing in 2020, and the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, means those record attempts will likely remain longer-term aspirations, but in the meantime the DTC have set a more realistic target: to run the first sub-four minute mile in Tipperary, at the Moyne AC track in Thurles, set for July 25th, with the help of DTC training partners Seán Tobin, Brian Fay, Hiko Tonosa and Paul Robinson.

After that there's also the re-fixed National Championships, set for August 22nd/23rd at the Morton Stadium in Santry. "We're used to training in a group, at least 15 of us out on any given occasion. With the DTC, we're pulling in the same direction, all want to see the other do well. I don't think any of us are afraid of the hard work, training together."

With the records still there to be broken.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics