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Track legend Noel Carroll dies while running

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — Noel Carroll, one of Ireland’s most famous sports stars, died while running last week. The suspected cause was a heart attack.

Carroll, who was 56, set a European record for the 800 meters in 1964. He represented Ireland in two Olympics and three European championships.

A strong advocate of clean living and physical fitness — he never smoked and rarely drank — Carroll ran the fastest 800 meters ever by an 18-year-old in 1960. He was later Irish, British, AAA, European and U.S. champion in the 800.

He was also Irish, European and World record holder at the same distance in the masters track and field.

The son of a County Louth farm worker and part-time fisherman, Carroll represented Ireland at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and in Mexico in 1968.

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According to the New York Times, which reported Carroll’s death in its Monday issue, sports fans in the U.S. "could be forgiven if they recalled Carroll chiefly as the oversized Irish speedster who caught the eye of Villanova’s legendary track coach, James F. Elliott, at the 1962 Millrose Games in New York and went on to turn an Irish trickle started by Ron Delaney into a tide as a pioneer of the famous Irish-Villanova pipeline, which drew a torrent of star Irish runners like Eamonn Coghlan and Marcus O’Sullivan to suburban Philadelphia."

Carroll dropped out of school at 13. He held a number of jobs before beginning his running career in the army, where he converted from cross-country to the 880 and 440. At 18 and 19, Carroll had set world age-group records in the 880-yard run. When Elliott saw Carroll in Madison Square Garden, he offered him a scholarship, giving Carroll the change to obtain a college education without even having gone to high school

At Villanova, he led the Wildcats to a series of track championships and helped to set the world record in 1964 as the anchor of the 4-by-880 relay team.

Although he failed to win medals in the 1964 and ’68 Olympics, Carroll was the dominant runner of his time. He set an indoor European record in the 880 in 1964, won three consecutive European and British titles in the event, won a total of 14 Irish championships and set an array of national records in the 880 and 440.

He had been chief executive officer of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce since 1966 but was better known to the public as the blunt-speaking spokesman for Dublin Corporation, where he had worked for almost a quarter of a century.

He was also a leading figure in the GOAL charity and was a lifelong friend of its founder, John O’Shea.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern led the huge number of tributes to Carroll, describing him as a good friend and champion of Dublin.

"As a talented sportsman, brilliant communicator and clear-minded thinker, he was outstanding in his generation," Ahern said.

Carroll, a grandfather, had continued a regular keep-fit regimen, running in Trinity College and University College in Dublin during his lunch breaks. He also encouraged young athletes. He also knew the value of scholarships; when he went to Villanova, he studied economics. He had also written a number of best-selling books including "Sport in Ireland" and "The Runners Book."

He was a leading figure in organizing the Dublin City marathon, which took place just last Monday. A minute’s silence was observed at the start of the marathon in Carroll’s memory. The night before his death, he had mingled with 1,000 guests at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner.

Carroll is survived by his wife, Deirdre O’Callaghan, the singer and harpist, four children and five grandchildren.

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