Athletics News

1st in a series: Measuring the US scholarship system

By Joe Conway @joeaconway

Olympic qualification for Irish athletes is not and should not be the only yardstick by which the American athletic scholarship system is measured.

Many Irish athletes who come stateside would not have made the Olympics no matter what country they pursued an athletic career. This writer has personal experience with this hypothesis.

But just for the purposes of this exercise, let’s just pretend that Olympic qualification is the only measure of scholarship success.

Here’s the data for the men’s 1500 meters and how American colleges have contributed athletes over the years (producing one gold medal and 3 finalists at that distance. Only two athletes on the list below did not attend a US university.):

Year Athlete Age Performance Medal US College
2012 Ciaran O’Lionaird 24 13th (Heat 3 Round 1/3) Florida State
2008 Alistair Cragg 28 8th (Heat 2 Round 1/3) Arkansas
2004 James Nolan 27 10th (Heat 1 Round 2/3) N/A
2000 James Nolan 23 9th (Heat 1 Round 1/3) N/A
1996 Shane Healy 27 11th (Heat 2 Round 2/3) Adams State
1996 Niall Bruton 24 12th (Heat 1 Round 2/3) Arkansas
1996 Marcus O’Sullivan 34 6th (Heat 4 Round 1/3) Villanova
1992 Marcus O’Sullivan 30 8th (Heat 2 Round 2/3) Villanova
1988 Marcus O’Sullivan 26 8th Final Villanova
1988 Gerry O’Reilly 24 10th (Heat 3 Round 1/3) Villanova
1984 Marcus O’Sullivan 22 9th (Heat 2 Round 2/3) Villanova
1984 Paul Donovan 21 4th (Heat 2 Round 1/3) Arkansas
1984 Frank O’Mara 24 4th (Heat 4 Round 1/3) Arkansas
1980 Ray Flynn 23 6th (Heat 3 Round 1/3) East Tennesse
1976 Eamon Coghlan 23 4th Final Villanova
1976 Niall O’Shaughnessy 20 4th (Heat 4 Round 1/3) Arkansas
1972 Frank Murphy 25 5th (Heat 5 Round 1/3) Villanova
1968 Frank Murphy 21 10th (Heat 5 Round 1/3) Villanova
1964 Basil Clifford 26 8th (Heat 1 Round 1/3) N/A
1956 Ronnie Delany 21 1 Final Gold Villanova
1948 John Joe Barry 22 8th (Heat 1 Round 1/2) Villanova

Source: Olympic Reference

So the question could be:  How many of these athletes would have made the Olympics no matter what the environment?

Hard to say.

In some cases, Irish athletes have made the Olympics after surviving rather than thriving in the American collegiate system so it may be unfair to attribute Olympic qualification solely to the scholarship experience.

On the flip side, some would not have made the Olympics without availing of the NCAA competition and the subsequent catapult to a professional career.

This is not baseball where sabermetrics can help predict performances by crunching the probabilities.

If anyone can predict such athletic outcomes with 100 percent accuracy, a career in Las Vegas beckons.

For the rest of us, it’s the proverbial roll of the dice.

By the numbers:

  • 177: Since 1924, Ireland has produced 177 track and field Olympians.
  • 22: The number of marathon runners to represent Ireland since 1924 — the most in any athletics event.
  • 16: The number of Irish 1500 meter Olympians
  • 6: Ireland’s total track and field medal count for all events.
  • 2: Hammer thrower Pat O’Callaghan won consecutive gold medals in Amsterdam (1928) and Los Angeles (1932).
  • 1: One gold medal in 1500 meters (Ron Delany in 1956).
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Feidhlim Kelly

Feidhlim Kelly

Con Houlihan once told me that tomorrow is now. In taking on this venture I’ve started to try and put his words into action.

I worked for Con from 2007 till his passing in 2012 taking down his copy and a whole lot more. I have a Con Houlihan section which will go in to more depth on that.

I’m a long-time contributor to the Irish Runner magazine and am also working for the Irish Examiner.

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