Indoor Track & Field

First in ten-part series: Irish masters performances for the ages

First in a ten-part series highlighting the best Irish masters performances.

My first memories of watching track and field date back to the summer of 1976 when my dad and I watched Ireland’s Eamon Coghlan advance through the rounds of the 1500 meters at the Montreal Olympics.

The outcome has been well-documented: New Zealand’s John Walker won gold and the Montreal final was the first of two agonizing Olympic fourths for Coghlan.

Almost 20 years later in 1994, Coghlan became the first runner over the age of 40 to break four minutes for the mile when he ran 3:58 in Boston. Coghlan is still one of only three masters to accomplish this feat: Britain’s Anthony Whiteman (outdoors) and Bernard Lagat — who eclipsed Coghlan’s indoor mark at the 2015 Wanamaker Mile — are the others to accomplish the feat.

While my memories of Coghlan’s career obviously culminated with his World Championship over 5000 in 1983, he is a household name in the states as the Chairman of the Boards. When Clonliffe’s Lar O’Byrne introduced me and my wife to Coghlan in the summer of 1994 shortly after his masters feat, Coghlan was the only Irish athlete that my American-born wife had heard of.

We congratulated Coghlan for his masters feat.

“Not bad for an auld fella,” Coghlan declared and I remember thinking not bad for a young fella. Many of Ireland’s American scholarship middle distance hopefuls never came close to accomplishing a four-minute mile at any age — this runner included.

Ten years earlier in 1984, the newly-minted World Champion’s appearance in the Cork City Sports 5000 was much-anticipated, but shockingly Coghlan was well-beaten on the night and it soon emerged that he spent much of the previous six months battling a leg injury. I was in the stands that night in Cork and although we didn’t know it at the time, this race effectively signaled the end of Coghlan’s status as a major medal contender and soon after he withdrew from the Los Angeles Olympics. Although he competed over 5000 in Seoul in 1998, Coghlan was well past his best and did not make the Olympic final.

Thereafter, the masters four-minute mile seemed to beckon for Coghlan.

As prolific sub-four minute milers well into their thirties, Walker or American Steve Scott were many people’s picks in the early 1990s to be the first to run under four minutes for the masters mile.

While we can be sure Coghlan would trade his masters sub-four mile for Walker’s gold in Montreal, it is ironic that Coghlan was the one — and not Walker — to reach that masters milestone.

Dara Kervick comes around the second bend on his way to 400m victory. Image: Kieran Carlin
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