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.):
|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).