Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Vintage Liquori & Buerkle

Here's an unpublished photo from 1974 showing Marty Liquori, Tom Fleming, and Dick Buerkle at a meet in Germany. Who says distance runners cannot dress well?
For five consecutive years in the 1970s Buerkle and Liquori traded off as the #1 ranked American at 5000 meters. Buerkle was ranked #1 in 1974 and 1976 (when he won the USA Olympic Trials 5000), while Liquori was #1 in 1975, 1977 (when he was #1 in the world at that distance), and 1978.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Marina Muncan is Villanova Female Runner of the Decade

The 2000-2009 decade produced several national class distance runners on the women's side of the program: Frances Koons, Ioana Parusheva, Sheila Reid and Amanda Marino to name just a few. But the obvious choice for Villanova Female Runner of the Decade is Marina Muncan. Muncan competed for the Wildcats from 2002 to 2005 and achieved numerous noteworthy accomplishments. In cross country, Muncan was a four-time All American by viture of her finishes at the NCAA cross country nationals. Between 2002 and 2005 Marina finished 24th, 16th, 6th, and 23rd at NCAA cross nationals. Frances Koons, perhaps Muncan's closest challenger for title of decade's best, had but one All American finish in cross country, a 20th place finish in 2008. Muncan was a six-time Big East champion. She won four Big East individual titles: 800 meters (2004), 1000 meters indoors (2005), the mile indoors (2005), and 1500 meters (2005). She was part of two Big East championship relays as well: the 2004 4 x 800 and the 2005 4 x 800 indoors. Koons won 7 Big East titles: 3 individual and as part of two relays. Finally, Marina was an NCAA finalist in four individual and one relay events (in 2003, 2004, and 2005 she made the 1500 meter finals, finishing 5th, 3rd, and 9th, respectively; she was a 3000i meter finalist in 2004) and one relay (the 2004 DMR, which finished 4th). Koons was a four-time NCAA individual finalist: 2006 1500 meters (10th), 2009 3000i (9th) and 5000i (2nd), 2009 5000 (3rd).

Since the start of her professional career, Muncan has been a 1500 meter finalist at both the 2008 and 2009 European Indoor Championships (finishing 8th and 9th, respectively) and in July 2009 she won the 1500 meter gold medal at the World University Games, held in Belgrade, Serbia (her native country). Possessing good speed (a 2:02.86 PR at 800 meters) as well as strength, and by virtue of her success in both cross country and track, Muncan is here considered the best Villanova female runner of the past decade.

Blincoe Edges Curtis for Villanova Male Runner of the Decade

Adrian Blincoe (r) and Bobby Curtis were Villanova's best in the decade

As we approach the end of the decade it is appropriate to consider the contenders for the title of Villanova male Runner of the Decade. The most accomplished VU runners of the 2000-2009 decade were Adrian Blincoe (2003) and Bobby Curtis (2008). In my view, third place should go to Ryan Hayden, but a very difficult decision for first and second remains. Also, it is important to weigh only those accomplishments attained by the respective runners while wearing the blue and white. Otherwise, Blincoe's 5 extra years of international success (including his 13:10.19 New Zealand national record at 5000 meters, his 3:54.40 mile and 3:35.50 1500 meter PRs, and his 2008 Olympic team appearance) would make him the clear winner of the award. Curtis will have his time to build a comparable record if he is able to do so. As it stands, though, both runners have compelling claims on the title.

Blincoe over Willis on NCAA DMR anchor
Adrian Blincoe was a three-time NCAA champion and seven-time All American. He was the 2002 NCAA indoor champion at 3000 meters, and was runner-up to Alistair Cragg at that same distance in 2003.  He also anchored two NCAA champion DMR teams (in 2002 and 2003). Blincoe also holds two school records: his 7:47.50 3000 meter time, achieved in Boston on January 27, 2002, erased Sydney Maree's previous mark. Moreover, Blincoe anchored the Villanova school record DMR team. While at Villanova he broke the 4:00 mile with his 3:58.19 indoors at the Armory on February 9, 2002. His other honors include anchoring the 2001 Penn Relays DMR Championship of America winner, 8 Big East titles, and a top-10 finish at the NCAA cross country nationals in 2000. In 2002 Blincoe was an NCAA finalist at 1500 meters outdoors (finishing 5th). In cross, Blincoe was the 2001 NCAA regional champion, finished 2nd in 2002, and was 3rd in 2000. He was runner-up at the 2001 Paul Short Invitational.

Curtis wins NCAA 5000 crown
Bobby Curtis is also an NCAA individual champion, winning the 5000 meters at the 2008 NCAA outdoor meet (see photo, left), after having finished 2nd in 2007. His outdoor title was the first for a Villanova male runner since 1981 and Curtis is #2 on the all-time Villanova 5000 meter list. Curtis was 4th at the NCAA indoor 3000 meters in 2008. Like Blincoe, Curtis went sub-4:00 by running a 3:57.20 at Swarthmore on May 14, 2007 (Michael Kerrigan also broke 4:00 in that race, coming home in 3:59.60, with Blincoe serving as rabbit through three-quarters). Curtis was arguably a slightly better cross country runner than was Blincoe (notwithstanding Blincoe's 9th place finish at XC nationals in 2000). Curtis won the Big East Cross Country individual title twice (in 2004 and 2007), was 3rd (2004) and 1st (2007) at the NCAA cross country Mid-Atlantic regionals, finished 15th at the 2004 and 4th at the 2007 NCAA cross country nationals. In addition, he won the prestigious Paul Short cross country race twice (2006 & 2007), setting a course record in 2007. He was runner-up at Paul Short in 2004. He was 2nd and 3rd at the 2007 and 2006 NCAA cross country Pre-Nationals.

Both Blincoe and Curtis won NCAA titles (3000i and 5000 meters, respectively), and both were runners-up at the NCAA meet in those same events. Curtis ran a faster 5000 while competing for Villanova, while Blincoe is the school record holder at 3000i. Blincoe was an NCAA finalist at 1500 and was part of two NCAA DMR champions. At bottom, the fact that Blincoe established a school record, won two additional national championships, and anchored the 2001 Penn Relays DMR victory gives the Kiwi an ever-so-slight edge over Curtis for the title of Men's Runner of the Decade.

Monday, December 28, 2009

High School Stars to National Champions

Here are photos of (1) Eamonn Coghlan from the 1971 Irish Schools championships , (2) Marty Liquori competing for Essex Catholic in New Jersey in 1967, and (3) Bobby Curtis of Louisville's St. Xavier winning his third consecutive national high school mile championship in 2003. All three later won individual NCAA titles at Villanova.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pipped by Parlapiano

UCONN's Dan Wilson, a 2002 NCAA 1500 meter finalist, thought he had won the 2002 Big East title at 1500 meters (see above). But he was pipped at the line by Villanova's Tom Parlapiano. Wilson celebrated too soon and failed to lean at the wire, and was beaten for the title (see below). Both Parlapiano and Wilson were timed at 3:45.41. It was Villanova's second consecutive conference title at 1500, with Adrian Blincoe winning in 2001.

The Finish Line -- part 3

The initial picture to the left is that of Eamonn Coghlan on the cover of the July 9, 1979 issue of Sports Illustrated. On June 30 in Philadelphia he had covered the mile in 3:52.88 and in the process beat Steve Scott (3:53.4), Craig Masback (3:54.7 PR), Olympic 1500 gold medalist and WR holder John Walker (3:55), as well as Rod Dixon, Don Paige, and Paul Cummings. At the time it was Coghlan's outdoor mile PR, a mark he later lowered to 3:51.59 in July 1983 in Olso. Coghlan's indoor mile record of 3:49.78, a world record set in February 1983, stood for exactly 14 years before being broken by the legendary Hicham El Guerrouj on February 27, 1997. To this day, only Coghlan an and El Guerrouj have gone under 3:50 for the indoor mile.

The picture to the right is that of Nnenna Lynch winning the 1997 USA World Cross Country trials in 20:17. In doing so she bested Amy Rudolph (20:21), Gwen Coogan (20:27), Elva Dryer (20:33), and Deena Drossin (later Kastor) 20:45, among others.

Finally, one of the most famous Villanova finish line photos ever: Marty Liquori beating Jim Ryun in the 1971 Dream Mile. It was one of the most anticipated races in US history and was covered live on ABC's Wide World of Sports with Jim McKay and color analysis by Jim Beatty. Oddly enough for a race of that distance, the race started with a false start and required a second gun.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rhines Ranked #3 USA at 5000 for 2009

One running site has ranked Jen Rhines as the #3 American at 5000 meters this year, behind Shalane Flanagan and Jenny Barringer. Here is's summary of her year:

LRC #3 Jen Rhines • adidas • 15:07.78 • 9th Place, Worlds • USA Runner-Up

Jen Rhines had a great year as she finished as the USA runner-up in the championship 5,000m and went on to finish 9th in the IAAF World Championship 5,000m final. In Berlin, Rhines ran a strong 15:20 to make the 5,000m final and then ran even better, 15:12, in the final. This year Rhines ran 8 races between 15:33 and 15:07 on the track, including a 4th-place finish in the 5,000m at the IAAF Grand Prix in Stockholm, won by LRC #2 Jenny Barringer. Rhines ended her year with a 3rd-place finish on the roads in Providence in 15:33.

While 9th at Worlds, Rhines is only #3 in the US rankings. For many her ranking may not need an explanation. But for those of you who need an explanation here it is: Making the final at Worlds was not very difficult for a 15:10 5k runner this year. Rhines was not the US champ, so we couldn't see ranking her over Flanagan and Barringer whose 5k campaigns were more impressive than Rhines (except for the Worlds which they didn't run).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

1980 Olympic Boycott

Three Villanova runners were to compete at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Eamonn Coghlan ran the 5000 meters in that Olympiad, finishing fourth. The two Americans -- Dick Buerkle and Don Paige -- stayed home with the rest of Team USA as President Jimmy Carter issued a boycott of the Games in response to the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But Carter did throw a bone to the 1980 American team: he invited them to a picnic on the White House lawn. Below are two photos from that White House event: Dick Buerkle and his wife and baby in the first, and Don Paige and his parents in the second. Interestingly, Don Paige finished that 1980 olympic year ranked #1 in the world at 800 meters (the Brit Sebestain Coe lost an 800 race only 4 times between 1978 and 1984, but he lost two of those four in 1980: to Steve Ovett in the Moscow final and to Don Paige in Viareggio, Italy. Controversially, Track & Field News ranked Don Paige #1 that year, ahead of Ovett and Coe).

The Finish Line -- part 2

In this installment of famous Villanovans at the finish line, we see two of Ron Delany: just before and just after crossing the finish line in his gold medal effort at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. In the second shot, Delany is being congratulated by John Landy. Also, Carrie Tollefson is shown winning the 2004 Olympic Trials 1500 meter finals and making her first Olympic team.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Charmed Life of Thomas Donnelly

For young people Tom Donnelly is famous for his unparalleled success as track and cross country coach at Haverford College, located a short jog away from Villanova's campus on the Main Line. For those of us a bit older, Donnelly is remembered as one of the best distance runners ever produced by a Philadelphia high school, a multiple NCAA champion while at Villanova, and the coach of world class runners such as Marcus O'Sullivan and Sydney Maree.

Donnelly entered LaSalle College High School in 1961 and proceeded to win three Philadelphia Catholic League cross country individual championships.  After his freshman year, Donnelly never lost a high school race. After winning his third Catholic League title in 1964, we went to Van Cortlandt Park and won the Eastern States championship as well, setting a course record in the effort. 

He crossed the Schuylkill River to attend Villanova and promptly contributed to three consecutive NCAA championship cross country squads. Donnelly was Villanova's top finisher on both the 1966 and 1968 teams, finishing 7th and 8th, respectively. These top ten finishes sandwiched a 27th place finish for the 1967 NCAA champs. 

The 1966 team is pictured here, with Donnelly wearing bib 286.  Tom was also successful on the track, highlighted by an NCAA team championship, three All-American awards in the 3000 steeplechase (his PR was a gaudy 8:45) and three Penn Relays Championship of America 4 x Mile relay titles (his baton-mates in those races were Frank Murphy, Charlie Messenger, Dave Patrick, Dick Buerkle, and Marty Liquori).

After his Villanova career, Donnelly entered coaching and likewise found early success. He spent one year at Archbishop Wood high school in Philadelphia and the team promptly won the Philadelphia Catholic League cross country title. Tom left Wood in 1970 to coach at his alma mater LaSalle High. He coached the Explorers four years, won two more Philadelphia Catholic League cross country team championships in 1971 and 1972, and helped develop a future Villanova All-American in John Burns. I myself had the good fortune to have been coached for a year by Donnelly during his stint at LaSalle (and to have had him as my American history teacher as a frosh).

Donnelly left LaSalle in 1974 to attend graduate school at Villanova and to concentrate on his own running. He also was a part-time volunteer coach at Haverford (see photo above). When the full-time coaching slot at Haverford opened up, Donnelly was in the right place at the right time. He's been there now 35 years (notwithstanding Villanova's muffed attempt to hire Donnelly as its coach in the mid-1990s). At Haverford, he developed the first NCAA Division III sub-4:00 miler in 1997 (Karl Paranya, 3:57.6) and his Haverford teams have won so many conference titles (64 at last count) that he has run out of wall space in his office and cannot hang any more.  He led Haverford to the NCAA cross country national title in 2010.  How many Division III track coaches have found themselves the focus of a laudatory article in the New York Times? If anyone can claim to have lived a charmed life in the pursuit of running excellence, Tom Donnelly can.

A Conversation with Mark Belger

Reflections with Middle Distance Great Mark Belger

BY Gina Giacopuzzi
Saturday, 23 May 2009

From Mark Belger’s newly remodeled house in Pacific Beach, it is only a short walk to Mika Sushi, where he walks in the door, waves to the chef, and shows me a picture of him and his daughter on the wall. In the space of a few blocks, I had already learned that Belger tried running because he got “kicked out” of other sports, that he set age-group world records when he was 15, 16 and 17, and that both his daughters received college scholarships for following in their father’s footsteps.

Over an off-menu sushi roll and Sapporo beers, Belger tells me stories of the races that he ran (Penn Relays, 800 meters) and the ones that he didn’t (most notably, the 1980 Olympics, due to a U.S. boycott of the games). One thing I notice, over and over again, is Belger’s use of the word “fun”. He uses it in every story of every race.

“Racing was the part I liked,” Belger said. “Training was the hard part…I trained less than most.”

Belger grew up on Long Island in what he calls a “strict, middle-income” family. He stopped playing football when he hurt his jaw, stopped wrestling when he dislocated his fingers, and stopped playing soccer when he broke his toes. His dad told him, “you have to do some after-school activity,” so Belger began running in junior high. He received his first trophy running 600 meters during a President Kennedy Fitness test.

Belger enjoyed middle distances, setting three age group records in what was then the 880-meter at his high school, W.C. Mepham. He was persuaded to go out for cross-country, which he admits he approached with the same philosophy as middle-distance running.

“The first time I had to run two miles, I quit,” Belger laughed. “I was running as hard as I could as long as I could.” Innately, he said, he worked hard and had a hard time pacing himself. However, he managed to return to cross-country at the prodding of his coach. In his first junior varsity race, which was in the shape of a figure-8, Belger remembers staying right behind the front of the pack until he took a wrong turn. When he realized his mistake, Belger turned around and ran as fast as he could to win first place.

That tenacity and persistence paid off on college, which Belger attended at Villanova under famed coach James (Jumbo) Elliott.

“All coaches give you a rope,” Belger said. “It’s up to you if you want to hang yourself or swing with it.”

At Villanova, Belger ran the 800 meter and “lots of relays”.

“When weekends came around, I ran four to five races,” he remembers. “The ability to run that many races was my treasure. I loved relays, it’s like tag. You can tell when you’re going to beat somebody… from the warm-up, I’d put my eye on somebody and think, ‘I got him.’”

Belger set a record for the most Penn Relay titles, earning 10 coveted gold watches. “You don’t lose the Penns,” he jokes, but I can tell he’s completely serious. He never lost a race in the four years he participated. Belger made Sports Illustrated when he set the record in 1978, leading Villanova to five victories out of five races. He was inducted into the Penn Relays Wall of Fame in 1994.

“In college, our team had a lot of depth,” Belger said. “We trained together really well… Because we trained fast, we were well-honed.” At the ICA4 Championships, he ran five back-to-back races. Going into the 800-meter finals, the last race, Belger felt a little queasy at the beginning of the stagger lanes. He raised his hand, asking for a delay of the start, went and barfed, and returned to the starting line-up.

“I remember turning around in the stagger lanes, looking at the other guys, and they were slack-jawed,” Belger said, laughing. “They couldn’t believe it.”

Although he was less infatuated with training than he was with racing, Belger learned to train smart. He’s surprised by how many runners would hit the course without knowing the race.

“Going to bed at night, I visualized any and every possibility,” he said. “Then, when you get to the race, nothing’s new. You’ve already run it.”

At the Olympic Trials in 1976, Belger used that strategy---and his knowledge of opponent Keith Francis---to place fourth.

“I knew exactly how it was going to go,” Belger said. “I waited until the back straightaway, because Keith Francis always ran wide on the back straightaway. I came out of the turn in front, and then I hit a wall---I was just telling myself, ‘left, right, left, right.’”

Belger went on to become the NCAA 800-meter champion in 1978.

After college, Belger moved to Boston, where he worked in “econometrics”--- he helped to forecast the price of raw materials for the auto industry and developers. He remembers showing up at a Boston Athletics Association workout, where the coach told him his proposed quarter-mile workouts were a bad idea. Belger proceeded to run both of the BAA workouts and then run his quarters.

Just after completing college in 1979, he also had the opportunity to run against Villanova’s other star---Don Paige, whom Elliott had never allowed Belger to compete against. Belger could ask meet directors for an appearance list. He specifically asked the director of a meet at Madison Square Garden to set up a matchup with Paige. Although Belger tried to contain his energy, he said before the 1000-yard race, “I don’t think it’s gonna take a world record to beat Paige, but it’ll take a world record to beat me.”

The race was widely publicized, and Belger and Paige made the centerfold of Sports Illustrated. Belger held the lead for much of the race, only to be passed by Paige in the last three laps. Paige set a World Indoor Record.

Belger hit the travel circuit of post-collegiate racing, becoming familiar with running races with jet lag. He’d run a Friday night race in New York, pass through Chicago to run one on Saturday, and hit a Sunday race in Los Angeles. He enjoyed running in New York, which he said was a different experience altogether.

“One of my first races in Europe, I ran flat-out and set a personal record,” he said. “I still came in dead last! I saw people run faster than our pros, and I’d never heard of them.”

Belger enjoyed the international feel of running in Europe, compared to the spread-out invitationals in the U.S. He visited more zoos than perhaps any other American runner.

“What? I liked zoos!” He said. “People want to do what reminds them of home.”

Nowadays, Belger doesn’t do much running. He leaves that to his daughters and his wife Mimi, who join him for hill runs and strides at Kate Sessions Park on Saturdays. Any runner who wants to improve their running mechanics can learn from Belger at “the hill”. Even though the workouts are held on Saturdays, they often include a sermon from the Godfather of San Diego Running, Mr. Steve Holl.

Belger explains that strides are the key to improving running form and speed. The uphill running portion of the workout is necessary to isolate and blast one small muscle—the heart.

His eldest daughter, Erin, received a scholarship to UC Berkeley and competed in the Pac-10s and the NCAAs. Sarah, his next youngest, came back from a horrible knee-injury post high school to receive a cross-country/track scholarship at San Diego State her senior year.

“The fruit didn't fall far from the tree as far as their ability and commitment went... and in the end it paid off by providing structure, travel, a college education and other rewards,” Belger said. “Any passion suited to an individual's talents is a good thing… I'm just glad my daughters grew up with the experience that hard work and dedication has a positive effect.”

Belger is optimistic about track and field in the U.S. today, and he hopes some things never change.

“I’m old school,” he said. “You draw a starting line in the dirt, hoist a flag on the other side of the field, throw in a few obstacles, maybe even a good rain shower, drop the temperature to 40 degrees and pull the trigger. I'd say you have a race... Throw on a jersey with the name of your school across your chest and tie on a borrowed pair of spikes to your feet and I'm in heaven.”

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Finish Line -- part 1

Here are some famous finish line photos of Villanova runners -- click on image for a larger view. In this first installment: (1) Adrian Blincoe's anchor winning the 2002 NCAA Distance Medley Relay title, (2) Sonia O'Sullivan winning the 1998 World Cross Country Championship (she won both the long course and short course races that year), (3) Marty Liquori beating Jim Ryun for the 1969 NCAA mile championship, (4) Jen Rhines winning the 2002 USATF national title at 10,000 meters, (5) Matt Gibney anchoring the 2009 Penn Relays Championship of America Distance Medley Relay, and (6) Eamonn Coghlan winning the 1983 World Championship at 5000 meters.

Adrian Blincoe

Sonia O'Sullivan

Marty Liquori

Jen Rhines

Matt Gibney
Eamonn Coghlan

Take a look below at the final lap of Eamonn's 1983 world title at 5000 meters.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Strange Legacy of Sydney Maree

By standard measure (the stopwatch) Sydney Maree is the greatest male runner in the illustrious history of the Villanova program. His accomplishments are the stuff of legend: a world record over 1500 meters (3:31.24 in August 1983), American Records at 1500 meters (3:29.77 in 1985), 2000 meters (4:54.20 in 1985), 3000 meters (7:33.37 in 1984), and 5000 meters (13:01.15 in 1985, at the time the third fastest time ever). He won the first 5th Avenue Mile in 3:47. His mile PR (3:48.83) is faster than those of Eamonn Coghlan and Marcus O'Sullivan. Same for the 1500. He won multiple NCAA championships over 1500 and 5000 meters. We was an All-American in cross country. In 1981 he was the first Black to receive the South African Athlete of the Year award. Yet, despite this resume, Maree is routinely not placed at the top of the list when Villanova greats are considered. What accounts for this incongruity?
Perhaps the simplest explanation is that Sydney Maree, despite the best times produced by any Villanova runner, was considered even in his heyday to be a poor racer. He was viewed as a runner with freakish natural ability and legendary workouts who was a terrible tactician in races. He was Steve Holman before there was a Steve Holman. He was Alan Webb before there was an Alan Webb. Consider his tactics in the 1989 World Indoor Championship 1500 (won by Marcus O'Sullivan). Maree bolted immediately to the front, did all the work for 1400 meters with Marcus tucked neatly behind, and was promptly passed by three runner over the final 50 meters. He finished out of the medals, despite making ther race for everyone else.
Maree posted staggering times, but won very few important races. Perhaps the most impressive race he ever ran he did not win: covering 5000 meters in 13:01.15 in chasing Said Aouita to a 1985 world record (see video below). He was inconsistent. He himself felt unappreciated. On the international circuit he was insulted when Steve Scott offered encouragement to his friend Eamonn Coghlan rather than supporting him, a fellow American. He was considered thin-skinned.
Perhaps this anecdote captures the sentiment: Steve Cram, the British world record holder, was asked in the lead-up to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles what he thought of the threat Maree posed to his own chances at the Games. Cram replied: "He runs one good race in seven, but he might get lucky." What an unfair legacy for a man who ran 3:29, 3:48, 7:33, and 13:01.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sonia O'Sullivan named 2012 Irish Olympic Team Chef de Mission

Former Villanova great, multiple world champion and Olympic Silver medalist Sonia O'Sullivan (Cobh, County Cork) a few years back was voted Ireland's greatest living athlete. Reflective of such a honor, she was today named the Chef de Mission of Ireland's 2012 Olympic team. Here is the story from RTE Ireland:

Sonia named Olympic Chef de Mission

Tuesday, 15 December 2009
The Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) has selected Sonia O'Sullivan as Chef de Mission of the Irish team for the London Olympic Games in 2012.

The former Olympic silver medallist will head up a management team comprised of the OCI's chief executive Stephen Martin, who won a hockey gold medal for Great Britain in 1988, and Martin Burke, the OCI's sports director.

O'Sullivan recently served as Chef de Mission of the highly successful European Youth Olympic squad.

Chairman of the Olympic Athletes Commission, Jamie Costin, said: 'Sonia is a sporting legend and she will ensure that the Irish team's preparations and participation at the London Olympics will be totally athlete focused.

'This is a superb move by the OCI and will undoubtedly assist our chances of winning medals.'

Meanwhile, Siobhan Hoey has been appointed Chef de Mission for the Ireland team at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver in February.

Here's a video tribute to Sonia:

Monday, December 14, 2009

The First Irishman to tell Jumbo "No, Thanks"

Eamonn Coghlan's recent book Chairman of the Boards, Master of the Mile relates the story of Jumbo Elliott's failed attempt to recruit John Treacy to Villanova. According to Coghlan, despite the existence of the Irish Pipeline dating back for two decades or more, prior to 1974 Jumbo had never traveled to Ireland and, aside from Carl Lewis in New Jersey, had never traveled to recruit a runner in person (usually leaving the recruiting to Jack Pyrah). Since he had been invited to speak to the Olympic Council in Dublin, Jumbo decided to seek out Treacy and offer him a scholarship to run at Villanova. When Treacy turned Jumbo down and accepted a scholarship to Providence College, he became the first Irishman to turn down an offer to compete at Villanova. Treacy went on to greatness at Providence and on the world scene. His younger brother Ray followed John to Providence a few years later and became the team's track and cross country coach.

John Treacy's greatest moments, including a 1984 Olympic silver medal in the marathon and two World Cross Country golds, are listed below:
5000 meters: 13:28.89 (Rome, 1987)
10,000 meters: 27:48.7 (Brussels, 1980)
10K: 27:46 (Phoenix, 1985)
Half-Marathon: 1:02:22 (Nara, Japan, 1988)
Marathon: 2:09:15 (Boston, 1988)

Greatest Hits:

Silver Medal, Marathon (2:09:56), 1984 Olympic Games (Los Angeles)
Gold Medal, 1978 World Cross Country Championships (Glasgow)
Gold Medal, 1979 World Cross Country Championships (Limerick)
5th Place, 1985 World Cross Country Championships (Lisbon)
Brone Medal, 1974 World Junior Cross Country Championships (Monza)
Bronze Medal, 1975 World Junior Cross Country Championships (Rabat)
3rd Place, 1988 Boston Marathon (2:09:15)
3rd Place, 1989 Boston Marathon (2:10:24)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bobby Curtis @ 5000 meters

Bobby Curtis is the last Villanova runner to win an individual title at the NCAA national outdoor meet. He won the 2008 NCAA 5000 title in 13:33, making his move at the bell (top photo) and winning by 6 seconds over Stephen Pifer and Brent Vaughn (bottom photo). Curtis in the #2 man all-time on Villanova's 5000 meter list. Only Sydney Maree (the NCAA meet record holder) in 1979 has run a faster 5000 meters in a Villanova singlet.

1 Robert Curtis SR Villanova 13:33.93 10
2 Stephen Pifer SR Colorado 13:39.34 8
3 Brent Vaughn SR Colorado 13:39.44 6
4 David McNeill SO Northern Arizona 13:42.17 5
5 Ryan Vail SR Oklahoma State 13:42.85 4
6 Hassan Mead FR Minnesota 13:44.30 3
7 Kenyon Neuman JR Colorado 13:45.54 2
8 Patrick Smyth JR Notre Dame 13:47.82 1
9 Ian Burrell SR Georgia 13:48.40
10 Stephen Furst SR NC State 13:49.87
11 Emmanuel Bor SO Alabama 13:53.39
12 Mark Steeds JR Georgia State 13:56.18
13 Felix Kiboiywo SO Auburn 14:02.65
14 Abraham Ng'etich SR Iona 14:05.73
15 Joseph Maina JR Eastern Kentucky 14:06.43
16 Patrick Sovacool JR Miami-Ohio 14:18.55

Here's a post-race interview video with Curtis:

Villanova & The Wanamaker Mile

The premier indoor mile race in the United States is the Wanamaker Mile, held each year since 1926 at the Millrose Games in New York. Six different Villanovans have won that race a total of 22 times:

Eamonn Coghlan (7): 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1985, 1985, 1987
Marcus O'Sullivan (6): 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1996
Ron Delany (4): 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959
Marty Liquori (3): 1969, 1970, 1971
Dick Buerkle (1): 1978
Dave Patrick (1): 1967

During the 1977-1992 stretch, Villanova runners won the race an astonishing 13 of 16 years. The photo above shows Marcus O'Sullivan winning the 1989 mile in 3:54.27.

Ireland's 4 x Mile World Record

Two Villanova greats were part of the still standing 4 x Mile world record.  On August 17, 1985 in Dublin Eamonn Coghlan, Marcus O'Sullivan, Frank O'Mara and Ray Flynn broke the existing world record by 10 seconds in establishing the new mark of 15:49.08 .  The mile splits were as follows:  Eamonn Coghlan (4:00.2), Marcus O'Sullivan (3:55.3), Frank O'Mara (3:56.6) and Ray Flynn (3:56.9).  Click on the post title for a video highlight of the race.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Only Man Ever ....

Eamonn Coghlan is the only man to have broken 4:00 minutes for the mile after the age of 40. The picture to the right shows the 41-year old Dubliner crossing the line at Harvard's indoor track in 3:58.13 on February 20, 1994. He ran his very first sub-4:00 mile on May 10, 1975. That's three months short of 19 years between his first and his final sub-four minute mile.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Carey Pinkowski on Jumbo Elliott

Carey Pinkowski was an All-American at Villanova in the 1970s, and has been the race director of the Chicago Marathon since 1990. At Hammond (IN) High School he was State Champion twice in both cross-country and the mile. His best times were 4:12 for the mile and 8:56 for two miles. With his teammates, Tim Keogh and Rudy Chapa, he is part of the only trio of runners from one high school to break 9:00 for two miles in the same year. At Villanova, he had personal bests of 4:00.8 for the mile, 13:48 for 5,000 meters and 29:12 for 10,000 meters. In a recent interview, he spoke about the Villanova program and running for Jumbo Elliott:

Q: You were a very good collegiate runner at Villanova with personal bests of 13:48 for 5,000 meters and 29:12 for 10,000 meters. Additionally, you ran on a Penn Relay 4 x 1,500 meter winning squad which included Sydney Maree and an IC4A distance medley winning foursome with the legendary Indoor Mile World Record Holder Eamonn Coghlan. Your coach was the renowned Jumbo Elliott. How did your coach and being around many dedicated, top-notch runners help you develop as an athlete and person?

Carey Pinkowski: Running for Villanova and Jumbo Elliott for four years was a great experience as we were IC4A and NCAA team champions at various times. To be coached by Jumbo Elliott was fantastic. I ran all of the distances and made All-American a couple times so it was a great career with wonderful teammates. The indoor schedule was very enriched by running big meets like the Olympic Invitational and Millrose Games. Jumbo’s philosophy wasn’t complicated. It was a specific routine where he tried to keep us healthy because one of the challenges was in having so many great athletes that we could get competitive in practice. The tradition of Villanova and of Coach Elliott was very impressive. When I ran there he was the only track coach Villanova had ever had as he ran there and coached the team while he was running. Then he just continued after graduating for many, many years. He had a marvelous personality and a great sense of humor and wanted to see his Villanova runners continue that tradition. He could get angry, but he liked to laugh and keep things on the light side. He expected things from his athletes but didn’t put on undue pressure. It was more like, ‘You’re here and you know what to do and lets see you do it.’ Jumbo’s philosophy was that life wasn’t just about athletics but that we should enjoy the school atmosphere, the friends we make and the people we meet because when you finish with school your life will change dramatically.

The Strange Case of Villanova's 1970 Cross Country Crown

On November 23, 1970 the NCAA Cross Country Championship was held at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The top contenders for the team championship were UTEP, which had won the crown in 1969 and returned all 5 top finishers from that race, Oregon, 3rd in 1969 and led by the iconic Steve Prefontaine, and Villanova, which had won the title in 1966, 1967, 1968 and finished second behind UTEP in 1969. By all accounts, though, Villanova was in something of a rebuilding phase in 1970 and most observers had UTEP as the pre-race favorite.
Oregon, though, had seemingly pulled the upset. Steve Prefontaine, 3rd the year before, won the race in 28:00 and Oregon was declared the team champion, beating Villanova 86-88. UTEP was third. The championship trophy was awarded to Bill Dellinger and his Ducks, the top teams stood atop the podium, and the press conference was held. Oregon departed for the airport, trophy in hand, believing it had won the championship.
However, when Les Nagy, Villanova's 5th finisher, look at the results board, he noticed that several runners he knew he had beaten were listed ahead of him in the list. Nagy claimed that after having crossed the finish line he had fallen to the ground, and several runners had passed him in the finish chute prior to the runners having gotten their place cards. Villanova filed a protest of the results and refused to leave the site until the 8mm film of the finish line was reviewed. Sure enough, Nagy was correct. After reviewing the film, Nagy was awarded 62nd place overall, instead of 67th, and as a consequence Villanova was declared the team champion 85-86 over Oregon. Bowerman and the Ducks filed a protest, but to no avail. Villanova's squad -- Donal Walsh, Marty Liquori, Wilson Smith, Chris Mason, Les Nagy, Jerry Bouma, and Dave Wright -- had won its 4th national title in 5 years.

Here are the top 25 finishers in that 1970 championship race:

1. Steve Prefontaine, Oregon 28:00
2. Donal Walsh, Villanova 28:08
3. Don Kardong, Stanford 28:10
4. Greg Fredericks, Penn State 28:12
5. John Bednarski, UTEP 28:14
6. Keith Munson, Oregon State 28:22
7. Bob Berlesen, Ohio 28:28
8. Sidney Sink, Bowling Green 28:30
9. Marty Liquori, Villanova 28:37
10. Scott Bringhurst, Utah 28:40
11. Jerome Howe, Kansas State 28:43
12. Richard Sliney, Northern Arizona 28:44
13. Don Smith, Washington State 28:45
14. Jerome Liebenburg, Western Michigan 28:46
15. Kerry Pearce, UTEP 28:47
16. Mark Covert, Cal State Fullerton 28:48
17. Mark Hiefield, Washington State 28:48
18. Gary Harris, Western Michigan 28:50
19. Dennis McGuire, Iowa State 28:50
20. Ken Popejoy, Michigan State 28:55
21. John Cragg, St. Johns (Minn) 28:58
22. Greg Carlberg, Nebraska 28:56
23. Wilson Smith, Villanova 28:56
24. Edmund Norris, Kent State 28:59
25. Ron Martin, William & Mary 29:00

TOP 5 TEAMS: Villanova (85), Oregon (86), UTEP (124), Indiana (195), Western Michigan (214)

After the race Villanova coach Jack Pyrah commented: "We were really surprised to win it. UTEP had everyone back and Oregon had its usual fine personnel. We really don't have a cross country runner except for Walsh. The rest of our runners are half-milers and milers who are suited more for the track. Marty doesn't like to run cross country. He doesn't like to run hills -- in fact, we didn't even run him in the IC4A meet the week before at Cortlandt Park in New York because the course has so many hills. He has muscle problems in his leg and a hilly course aggrevates it. But the course at Williamsburg was pretty flat."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ronnie Delany

Villanova's legendary Ronnie Delany, wearing the green vest of Ireland, won the 1956 Olympic Gold Medal at 1500 meters in 3:41.2, which was a new Olympic record. In the process, he defeated Australia's John Landy, the world recorder holder at that distance. He went on himself to set three indoor world records in the mile in 1958 and 1959. He's pictured below from 1956.

Blincoe's 3000 Meter National Crown

At Fayetteville, Arkansas Adrian Blincoe won the 2002 NCAA 3000 meter indoor championship. Blincoe's time was 8:01.76. At the same meet, Blincoe anchored Villanova's NCAA champion DMR team. Blincoe is Villanova's 3000 meter school record holder, having run 7:47.50 in Boston on January 27, 2002. Currently a Villanova assistant coach, he is the New Zealand national record holder at 5000 meters (13:10.19).

1981 Penn Relays 4 x 1500

Here's a shot of the 1981 Penn Relays 4 x 1500 Champions. From left to right: Ken Lucks, Marcus O'Sullivan, Jack Pyrah, John Hunter, and Sydney Maree. The foursome ran 15:01.96 and Maree was named the meet's Most Valuable Athlete.
They're wearing black ribbons to honor Jumbo Elliott, who had died of a heart attack in March of that year.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Ryun vs. Liquori Duels

Liquori defeats Ryun for the 1969 NCAA Mile title

So far as I am aware, Marty Liquori and Jim Ryun raced each other a total of nine times (although two of the nine races -- the 1968 Olympic Trials 1500 meter final and the 1968 Olympic 1500 semi-final -- were qualifying races where the goal was to advance among top finishers, not necessarily win outright).  Ryun won the first five races. The sixth race -- the 1969 NCAA indoor mile championship in Detroit -- was a photo finish, with Ryun declared the winner, but Liquori still believing years later that he had in fact won. The final three races were won by Liquori, punctuated by the 1971 Dream Mile that landed Liquori on the cover of Sports Illustrated (see left). I don't believe they ever faced each other again. Here are the nine races:

1. June 1967 at the Compton Relays in Los Angeles: Jim Ryun, a 20-year old soon-to-be junior at the University of Kansas and already the world record holder at 880 yards (1:44.9) and the mile (3:51.3), won the mile race. Liquori, a senior at Essex Catholic in New Jersey and a few months short of enrolling at Villanova, was chasing his first sub-4:00 mile. He had run a 4:04.4 at the 1967 Penn Relays that spring and was in California on a three-race swing in search of fast races. At Compton, Liquori came closer to achieving his goal, coming third in 4:01.1. A few days later, in San Diego, Liquori ran 4:00.1 and beat his future Villanova teammate Dave Patrick. In his next race versus Ryun, a few days later on June 23rd in Bakersfield, Liquori would achieve his goal.

2. June 23, 1967 in Bakersfield, California: At the US AAU national mile championship, Jim Ryun lowered his own world record in the mile, running 3:51.1 (a record that would stand for eight years). Liquori, a 17-year old senior at Essex Catholic in New Jersey, qualified for the finals by running 4:08 in the heats the day before. In the final, he finished 7th, but became the third high school prep runner to break the 4:00 barrier, running 3:59.8. Fifteen days later in Los Angeles, Ryun would add the 1500 world record to his resume, defeating Kip Keino in 3:33.1.

3. September 1968 in Lake Tahoe, California: The "second" 1968 Olympic Trials were held at altitude to simulate the Olympic venue at Mexico City. The pre-Trials buzz was that Villanova's Dave Patrick would challenge Ryun for mile supremacy, but it was not to be. Ryun won easily and Patrick finished in the dreaded 4th place (and off the USA team).  However, Villanova's sophomore Marty Liquori surprised observers by finishing second to Ryun (see video, right) and making the US squad. Liquori went on in Mexico City to become the youngest ever 1500 meter finalist in Olympic history.

4. October 19, 1968 in Mexico City, Mexico:  Both Ryun and Liquori advanced easily on October 18th in separate preliminary heats of the 1500 meters.  Ryun won heat 4 in 3:47.5, while young Liquori won heat 5 in 3:52.7.  They would both be slotted for heat 2 of the semi-finals for the next day, with the top 6 finishers qualifying for the Olympic final.  On October 19, 1968 Ryun won the 1500 meter semi-final heat #2 in 3:51.2.  Liquori came fourth in the heat, in 3:52.1.  Liquori thus became the youngest person in Olympic history to qualify for the 1500 meter final.  That race would occur the next day.  Unfortunately, Liquori injured his foot in this semi-final, putting his competitive chances in the final at grave risk.  

5. October 20, 1968 in Mexico City, Mexico: In the Olympic 1500 meter final, Kip Keino displayed a courageous case of front-running and won the Olympic 1500 meters in an Olympic record 3:34.91. Jim Ryun (who had not previously lost to Keino) trailed by 25 meters and took the silver in 3:37.80. Marty Liquori decided to run in the final despite the stress fracture in his foot, and came 12th and last in 4:18.22.

6. March 1969 in Detroit, Michigan: At the NCAA Indoor Championships Ryun and Liquori waged an epic battle over one mile that resulted in a photo finish (see right). Ryun was declared the winner, with Liquori a disappointing second. Ryun and Liquori were both timed in 4:02.6.

7. June 1969 in Knoxville, Tennessee: The NCAA Outdoor Championship mile witnessed Liquori's first victory over Jim Ryun (see photo, right). Liquori won the race in 3:57.7, with Ryun second in 3:59.3. Villanova had two others in the final: Frank Murphy was third in 3:59.8 and Chris Mason came seventh in 4:02.8. The 16 points scored by Liquori and Murphy helped Villanova win the NCAA team title.

8. July 1969 in Miami, Florida: Fresh off his NCAA win over Ryun, the two men faced each other over the mile distance in the AAU Nationals. Famously, Ryun DNF'd, walking off the track after two laps and into a temporary "retirement." Marty Liquori won the race (see photo, right) and the national crown in 3:59.5 over Sam Bair.

9. May 16, 1971 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: In one of the most anticipated races in US track history, Ryun and Liquori faced off at the Martin Luther King Freedom Games "Dream Mile." Ryun was coming back from his malaise-driven temporary retirement and Liquori was trying to defend his "king of the hill" status. A rather pedestrian early pace produced quarters of 61.1 and 62.2. Seeing the half-mile time of 2:03.3 and wary of Ryun's 800-meter speed, Liquori jumped to the lead and began a legendary long kick. The two men covered the final two laps in 56.7 and 54.6 (1:51.3 for the second half) and Liquori held off Ryun down the stretch to win (and to appear on his only Sports Illustrated cover).