Irish Indoor Athletics... A Proud and
3 February 2005
AAI's PRO and resident historian Pierce O'Callaghan
takes a stroll down memory lane and revisits some of the many Indoor
successes Irish athletes have had over the years.
On a weekend which sees the return of the National
Indoor Championships to its spiritual home in Nenagh, it is
appropriate to celebrate some of the other milestones that form part
of a glorious history of Indoor athletics by the nation’s top
athletes. For a country of limited resources, from both a population
and facilities viewpoint, Ireland has an unrivalled success rate on
the indoor track boasting a remarkable 5 World Indoor Championship
Gold medal winners as well as having twice as many World Indoor
Records set by Irish men and women.
Arguably, it could be said that the pioneer of the
modern successes was Cork-man Con Leahy, who is the generally
regarded as the first Irishman to win a medal in the US Indoor
Championships taking bronze in the High Jump in 1907 with a jump of
However, it was two Ulster based women who pioneered
the sport on the fairer side with Commonwealth Games hero Thelma
Hopkins becoming the first Irish born woman to set a World Record
when she high jumped 1.65m to break the existing record by the
smallest of margins in Manchester in 1957. Her fellow Ulster woman
Maeve Kyle went on to become the first Irish woman to win a medal at
a major championship by taking bronze in the 1966 European Indoor
Championships in 57.3 seconds.
Indeed the European Indoor Championships were to
provide no shortage of success for the Irish in the late 60’s and
early 70’s with pride of place going to Noel Carroll who won three
gold and one bronze medal over 800m. (See word document below)
The inaugural IAAF World Indoor Championships which
were held in Indianapolis in 1987 saw four Irish athletes selected
to compete lead by the “Chairman of the Boards” Eamonn Coghlan,
accompanied by Marcus O’Sullivan in the 1,500m along with Frank
O’Mara (Limerick) and Paul Donovan (Galway City Harriers) in the
3,000m. Unprecedented success followed with O’Sullivan and O’Mara
striking gold in the 1,500m and 3,000m respectively and Donovan
making it an Irish one-two with silver in the 3,000m. Amazingly it
was the hottest of hot favourites, the ever popular Coghlan who
failed to make it a 100% record for the Ronnie Long-Sean Naughton
managed team by falling in his heat and failing to make it to the
Further success was to follow the Leevale man, (who
went to break the 4 minute mile 100 times), when he defended his
1,500m title in 1989 in front of a capacity crowd in the Budapest
Indoor arena. Ironically, the TV pictures showed approximately 25%
of which were Irish football fans who witnessed athletics history in
the making before an important World Cup qualifier 2 days later!
For Limericks O’Mara, who was based in Arkansas, he entered the
championships carrying an injury but bravely battled to defend his
title before eventually finishing 5th.
His disappointment was to be short-lived however
coming back to regain his crown in Seville in 1991 running an Irish
Record of 7.41.14 which was only bettered by Olympic 5,000m finalist
Alistair Cragg last year. Indeed Seville was to be a complete
reversal of the previous edition in Budapest as O’Sullivans dreams
of three in a row came undone by finishing 4th behind the
great Nouredine Morceli and Ferman Cacho, both of whom subsequently
went on to win Olympic Gold over 1,500m.
Toronto hosted the fourth edition of the
Championships and with Irish gold at the previous three editions
hopes were high of a fourth consecutive gold and Marcus O’Sullivan
again lived up to his billing winning a record third title over
1,500m and a place in the Irish Sporting folklore for ever.
Barcelona hosted the next edition in 1995 and the
country was on tender hooks as both O’Sullivan and Dubliner Niall
Bruton qualified for the final of the 1,500m. A slow tactical race
played into the hands of both Irishmen but it was not to be with
O’Sullivan bowing out in 11th place and Bruton giving a
glimpse of things to come with a fine 4th placing -- .14
of a second behind bronze in a race won by World Record Holder and
double Olympic Champion Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco.
1997 saw the turn of Paris to host the Championships
and this edition saw Sonia O’Sullivan debut in the competition over
3,000m. Determined to wash away the disappointment of the Atlanta
Olympics of the previous Summer, she led coming down the home
straight only to be passed by the diminutive Romanian Gabriela Szabo,
a name the Irish sporting public were to familiarise themselves
greatly with over the following years.
2000 saw Indoor Athletics again grab the front page
headlines with Leevale’s Mark Carroll scorching the final lap of the
3,000m to strike gold ahead of Portugal’s Olympic medalist Rui Silva
while Offaly’s James Nolan made a hugely successful start to his
1500m career by taking the silver medal behind Spains Redalot and
ahead of French super-star Mehdi Baala.
In a changing sign of the times it was 400m star
Karen Shinkins who was next on the medal rostrum at a major indoor
event when she created history by taking bronze over the 2 lap event
in Vienna in 2002 and 12 months later was emulated by Belfast’s Paul
McKee who took a joint bronze medal in the World Championships in
Birmingham over 400m in a nail biting final in which 19 year old
Kildare man David McCarthy finished a magnificent 5th.
Amazingly, and without the reigning bronze medalist
McKee, 12 months later it was another successful return to Budapest
for the Irish when an elite quartet of Rob Daly, Gary Ryan, David
Gillick, David McCarthy took an unprecedented bronze medal in the
4x400m relay with the might of the USA being listed behind them in
the official results!
On the domestic front the inaugural Irish Indoor
Championships were held in the Nenagh Indoor Arena on March 13th
1987 which were a tribute to Sean Naughton’s vision to provide
Indoor facilities to the Country. The Championships were open to
athletes from all over the island and have proved a remarkable
success over the years.
This year sees the Championships return to Nenagh
after 2 great years in the magnificant Odyssey Arena in Belfast, and
as the trials for the forthcoming European Indoor Championships in
Madrid are coinciding with the Championships we are sure a great
weekend of top class athletics.
By Pierce O’Callaghan
Irish Indoor Medallists, Roll of Honour and
Junior Roll of Honour (.doc)