Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Five Greatest Irish Runners in Villanova History

While observers might differ in the rank ordering of the best of the Irish Pipeline to Villanova, there is virtually no doubt that the top four Irish imports to have ever run at Villanova are (in my own rank order): Sonia O'Sullivan, Eamonn Coghlan, Marcus O'Sullivan, and Ronnie Delany. It would be very difficult to deny the greatness of these four and their inclusion at the top of Villanova's Irish contingent. The question remains, though, which Irish runner deserves to join these illustrious others as the final member of the all-time Villanova Irish top 5?

Sonia O'Sullivan

1.  Sonia O'Sullivan

2x World Cross Country Champion
World Champion at 5000 meters
Olympic Silver Medalist at 5000 meters
World Championships Silver Medalist at 1500 meters
4x Olympian (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004)
3x European Champion
3x World Record Holder
5x NCAA Individual Champion
16x International Medalist
Irish National Records over 10 distances
6x Penn Relays Champion
10x Big East Champion

Eamonn Coghlan

2.  Eamonn Coghlan

World Champion at 5000 meters
3x Olympian (1976, 1980, 1988)
First Man under 3:50 for the Indoor Mile
First Man over 40 to run sub-4:00 Mile
World Records over 3 Distances
European Champion in the 1500i meters
European Record in the Mile
7x winner of the Wanamaker Mile
83 Sub-4:00 Miles
4x NCAA Mile Champion
9x Penn Relays Champion
8x IC4A Champion

Marcus O'Sullivan

3.  Marcus O'Sullivan

3x World Champion at 1500i meters
4x Olympian (1984, 1988, 1992, 1996)
World Record over 1500i meters
Masters World Record over 3000 meters
5x winner of the Wanamaker Mile
6x Penn Relays Champion
101 Sub-4:00 Miles
2x NCAA Champion
10x Big East Champion
2x IC4A Champion

Ron Delany

4.  Ron Delany

Olympic Gold Medalist at 1500 meters
2x Olympian (1956, 1960)
3x World Records in the Indoor Mile
4x NCAA Individual Champion
4x AAU Champion
4x Irish National Record Holder
4x winner of the Wanamaker Mile
9x Penn Relays Champion
9x IC4A Champion

For our money, the all-time #5 Irish runner to don the Villanova vest is John Hartnett.  He beats out such contenders as Frank Murphy (8x Penn Relays champ, IC4A champion over 1000 meters, and 3:58.1 miler), Donal Walsh (2nd to Steve Prefontaine at the 1970 NCAA cross country championship, 2x NCAA All-American in cross country), and Gerry O'Reilly (6x Big East Champion, 3x IC4A champion, 3:54.63 miler, 1988 Olympian).

John Hartnett

 5.  John Hartnett

1972 Olympian
Irish National Record at Mile
Irish National Record at 1500 meters
Irish National Record at 5000 meters
Irish 10,000 champion
World Junior Cross Country Champion 1970
NCAA Indoor Champion at 2 miles in 1974
Most Outstanding Performer, 1973 Penn Relays
5x Penn Relays Champion
3x Anchor, Penn Relays DMR Champions
3:54.7 Mile PR
3-Mile PR of 13:06 was Villanova #2
6x IC4A Champion

Feel free to comment on my ordering of these Villanova greats from Ireland (e.g., how can I have Ron Delany -- the only Irish Villanovan to have won an Olympic Gold Medal -- ranked #4?).  If I have misjudged or over-looked anyone, please let me know.

Happy St. Patrick's Day 

Erin Go Bragh  


  1. You might wish to credit Sonia O'Sullivan with her World Championship silver medal in the 1500m in Stuttgart in 1993. This remains one of my favorite races I've seen in person, as O'Sullivan was one of the few to take on the Chinese crew of distance runners and actually race them. O'Sullivan's parents were sitting behind me as O'Sullivan charged down the finish straightaway to win silver. Moments later, Mrs. O'Sullivan said, "Can I look now?" An absolutely charming moment! Mr. and Mrs. O'Sullivan left for the victory ceremony, and when they returned, Mrs. O'Sullivan was carrying Sonia's bouquet of flowers. A lovely moment on a historic day of track and field.

    Mark Cullen
    Seattle, WA, US

  2. Right you are, Mark. Were it not for the Chinese doping program at the time, she'd have had another world title & WR. Great story. When I was last in Ireland, I made sure to visit Cobh, as a sort of pilgrimage. Thanks.

  3. Were Coghlan's world records indoors and/or relays? I do not remember him setting any world records outdoors at standard distances in individual races.

  4. Also, did Coughlan compete in the '84 LA Olympics? I think he was a three time Olympian (76, 80 and 88).

  5. Hi -- thanks. Coghlan's WRs are all indoors. He set the indoor mile WR three times (1979: 3:52.6, 1980: 3:50.6, and 1983: 3:49.79). The latter time has been broken only once, by El G in 1997. In 1987 he set the 2000 meter WR (4:54.07, a time bettered only by Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele). In 1993 at age 40 he set a master's WR over 1500 meters (3:45.3 -- later broken in 2010 by Russia's Vyacheslav Shabunin). In the following year he ran his 3:58.17 at the age of 41 to set that record. All indoors. Finally, He is part of the still standing 4 x mile world record relay (outdoors), but I didn't count that one in his WR list.
    As to the 1984 Olympics, Coghlan was named to the Irish team, but did not compete due to a stress fracture. Villanova's media guide lists Coghlan as a 1984 Olympian, but that may be more in form than in reality. I've changed it above to 3x Olympian, since he didn't compete.
    You're right, of course, that most of Coghlan's best times are indoors, but to give the man his due outdoors: (a) he won the 1983 world championship over 5000 meters outdoors, (b) was runner-up to Ovett at the 1978 European championships 1500 meters, (c) just missed medals in 4th place finishes at the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games. His 13:22.74 in the 1980 5000 meter final is still the fastest time ever tun by an Irishman at that distance in the Olympics -- faster even than Frank O'Mara, Mark Carroll, or Alistair Cragg. He also won the 5000 meter World Cup in 1981 outdoors. His mile PR outdoors (3:51.59) is nothing to sneeze at either.

  6. Hartnett was also the NCAA indoor 2-mile champ in 1974.

  7. Thanks for that, Kelt -- I'll add it to his list.

  8. Coghlan was also part of a world record DMR effort -- On April 25, 1975 it was Ken Schappert, Greg Eckman, Tom Gregan, and Eamonn Coghlan who combined to run 9:28.2 in Philadelphia to set a new WR for Villanova.

    Both he and Marcus O'Sullivan are still part of the existing 15:49.08 world record in the 4 x mile, set on August 17, 1985, along with Frank O'Mara and Ray Flynn.

  9. Nice piece, big Cork Influence with Sonia, Marcus and John Hartnett. I'm Living five miles from John Hartnetts old home, his home village of Ballyhooley has a plaque in his honour on the main street and The man himself turns up for 'his' 10K road race around the village each August. (won last year by his son) A gent, as are all true champs.

  10. Yes, sir, Country Cork is well represented, Kealan. Here's a link to a website that honors John; you might find it interesting (it contains a picture of the plaque you referred to). All the best!

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  12. As a student at Nova, I was a lifeguard in the Pavilion pool. Saw Sonia many times during pool workouts through her injuries. Very nice young lady. My father also ran against John Joe Berry in 1952 NCAA XC championships. The great Wes Santee won the race with Berry finishing 2nd I believe.

  13. Surely Ronnie Delany's Olympic gold in the Premier track distance not to mention a 5 year UNBEATEN indoors record, 34 STRAIGHT mile victories must warrant a higher ranking than 4th!!! Sonia did not win Olympic Gold nor did Marcus or Eammonn just saying............