Category: Archive

Caulfield sets Irish indoor 800-meter record

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Dave Hannigan

BOSTON — In the latest chapter in what is fast becoming something of a track and field fairy tale, Daniel Caulfield set a Irish indoor record for the 800 meters Saturday at Boston University and thus secured his ticket to next month’s World Championships in Lisbon.

Despite his appointed pacemaker having to drop out at the halfway mark, Caulfield took the lead with just under 400 meters to go, Needing to break 1.48 to qualify for the World Indoors. He breasted the tape in a 1.47.21, five-hundredths of a second better than the previous best time by an Irishman.

"Even when I crossed the line I was still going all out because I was sure going around the last lap that I wasn’t going fast enough," said the 28-year-old Roscommon native, who once scored a goal for New York in the quarterfinals of the All-Ireland minor football championship.

"Then it struck me when I saw the clock that it looked like a new Irish record. I’m absolutely thrilled. At last, all the hard work I’ve put in has paid off.

"A couple of years ago, I was working in the Blackrock Clinic and I wasn’t even running. At this stage, I don’t even know myself what I’m capable of."

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These latest heroics marked the third week in succession when Caulfield has made headlines. Following an impressive victory in Boston on the last weekend in January, he finished second to Johnny Gray in a thrilling Millrose Games 800 on Feb. 2nd. He woke up the morning after that event to find his picture in the New York Times, the classic photo finish shot, his head thrust forward in a vain attempt to sneak past Gray. He savored the moment before spending the rest of the day working the phone, trying and failing to gain entry to a race in Massachusetts the following afternoon.

With neither medals or major championships on his resume, he doesn’t have a calling card promoters recognize, and every place had long since been allocated. This is what passes for glamour on the fringes of professional athletics.

"I’ve beaten good people over the years, but I’ve never run particularly fast times, so I’m not known," Caulfield said. "I have to persuade people to give me a chance. To get into the Millrose Games, I started canvassing the organizer last September. On days when it looks like I can’t get into races, I do start thinking maybe I’d be better off getting a job, getting on with my life. And if I didn’t think I had one good championship in me, I probably would."

In 1986, the Caulfields swapped Lecarrow, a tiny village on the way from Athlone to Roscommon, for New York. A succession of bad winters had hit their farm hard and they figured a sojourn in America might help them over the hump. Barely out of a national school containing 49 pupils, Daniel fetched up at Kennedy High in the Bronx, a sprawling institution with 6,000 students. In those choppy waters, a love of running, fostered first by the Community Games back home, helped the new boy stay afloat. He fell in with the track and field athletes and the bigger ones ensured he wasn’t bullied.

When a decent high school career didn’t parlay into an athletics scholarship, he enrolled at Adams State, on the banks of the Rio Grande in Alamosa, Colo. As a walk-on, he soon showed the coaches enough promise to ensure that, from second year, his education was paid for in full.

Just weeks after graduating in 1995, Caulfield announced his arrival on the Irish scene. In the last few strides of the 800 at the Cork City Sports, he edged out Kenyan Olympic silver medallist Nixon Kiprotich. In a town where his soccer-playing brother John is a minor legend, it was a famous victory, except that in the 5 1/2 years since, there have been few other highlights.

"I made some bad decisions with my training and I never came close to getting to the Atlanta Games," Caulfield said. "Then I picked up a hamstring [pull] that basically kept me out for two whole years. During that period, I worked as a physiologist with Liam Hennessy in the Blackrock Clinic, but I realized that if I was ever going to run competitively again, I’d better try before it was too late. I headed back to Colorado, the injury cleared up, and I began training with a new coach, Damon Martin. He has helped me enormously and I think I’ve helped myself in that I’m a more mature runner now."

For a while, Caulfield juggled his rejuvenated running career with waiting tables and studying for his master’s degree in physiology. By the end of 1999, he had his degree in hand and a host of improved times on the track. Without a Sports Council grant or a sponsor — when in New York over the last couple of weeks, he stayed in the spare room of a friend — he became a full-time athlete and, on a meager budget, went all-out for the Sydney. Even after failing at the final attempt to get the standard required for the Olympics, he reckoned he could endure the financial hardship of life as an athletic vagabond a while longer.

"Being poor for another while doesn’t bother me," Caulfield said. "I live a simple life, so I don’t need much money just now. The prize money I get for finishing second at Millrose will keep me going for six to nine months. I don’t have a car, I don’t drink or smoke, all I do is run. Of course, it would help if I had a sponsor, but I can’t waste time thinking of that.

"I’m more concerned with the fact that I know I have never run as fast as I’m capable and the notion of forever being regarded as a lesser athlete really gets me down. Before I give up, I want to give one good account of myself at a major championship to see what I can achieve. All through my career, I’ve never minded losing as long as I knew I had left everything behind me on the track. I’d hate to look back at this when I’m older and say I never gave myself a proper chance."

He heads to Portugal next month to compete against the world’s best. At last, a shot at some kind of glory.

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