By Dave Hannigan
In the absence of a big name chasing down the Wanamaker Mile, the Irish will still have something to cheer at the 95th annual Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden on Feb. 1. The three-time world indoor 1500-meter champion and current Villanova coach, Marcus O’Sullivan, will be inducted into the Millrose Hall of Fame in recognition of the unique contribution he made to the event during his athletic career.
Eamon Coghlan may have been “the chairman of the boards,” but O’Sullivan left his mark too. On five occasions, the Corkman won the Wanamaker and even in defeat always gave a credible performance. His 11 sub-4-minute-mile times in the event is a record to this day.
“Millrose is the one thing standing by itself,” O’Sullivan said a couple of years ago about the longest-running sporting event held at the Garden. “It’s a credit to it at a time when track and field seems to be in decline.”
After New Zealand’s John Walker and America’s Steve Scott, O’Sullivan became the third athlete ever to run more than 100 sub-4 miles. For the athletes from Leevale AC in Cork city, it was kind of fitting that his 100th actually came at the Millrose in 1998, 15 years after he clocked his first as a student on an indoor track in North Carolina. He retired from competitive racing that season when offered the chance to coach at his alma mater.
O’Sullivan’s presence at this Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which also includes middle distance star Mary Decker Slaney and hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah, couldn’t be more timely given the dearth of genuine Irish challengers this year. While entries have not yet been finalised, Mark Carroll’s current injury problems means he will not be present, and the absence of the 2000 Wanamaker champion deprives Ireland of a leading contender in the blue ribbon event for the first time in years. Although he could only finish third last year, Carroll had been anxious to continue a rich tradition that can be traced back to Ronnie Delaney’s 1956 victory that prefaced his gold medal performance later that year at the Melbourne Olympic Games.
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Delaney won three more times after that, and it was his fellow Villanova alum Coghlan who took up the baton with seven triumphs between 1977 and 1987, an achievement good enough to have him included in the inaugural batch of Hall of Fame nominees in 1999. Then came O’Sullivan’s purple patch, which took Irish and Villanova victories in the race to 16. Dubliner Niall Bruton mastered the art of running on the uniquely slanted Madison Square Garden track to win in 1994 and 1996.