August 17th, 1985 is a date that will forever remain prominent in the history of Irish athletics – an evening when four legendary Irish athletes combined to set a world 4 x 1 mile relay time of 15:49.08 on the track at Belfield, Dublin – a record that has stood the test of time.
On that famous August evening, Eamonn Coghlan, Marcus O’Sullivan, Frank O’Mara and Ray Flynn had their arms twisted and consciences prodded to chase the record by John O’Shea, the founder of humanitarian charity GOAL. At first, they were reluctant to take up the challenge during what was for them a busy track season of international races. However, John O’Shea managed to persuade the four athletes to come to Belfield where they delivered what was a magic night and a world record in front of a capacity and hugely appreciative spectator crowd. It’s a memory and a performance that each of the athletes treasures to this day and they are all glad that they rallied to John O’Shea’s call to action at that time.
The four athletes ran an average mile time of 3:57.3 to set the long-standing record.
John O’Shea remembers how the idea for the World 4 x 1 mile relay record attempt came about:
“The famine at the time in Ethiopia had a profound effect on me,” John said. “Having been one of the first western journalists to visit Ethiopia and seeing for myself the distress of six million people starving simultaneously, I was desperate, I was determined, and seeing Eamonn, Marcus, Frank and Ray in such great form and the potential to attract a crowd to see them run, I got the idea of some sort of running event on the track in Belfield – getting the big names together and going around with buckets to collect cash to assist the people suffering in Ethiopia.
“Almost all my ideas came overnight like that, but we had to act fast, so I got my arse over to a big track meeting in Zurich and met with Marcus, Frank and Ray. They weren’t immediately sold, telling me about training plans and up-coming races.
“I told them I wasn’t leaving until they said yes.- that millions of people were starving in Ethiopia and you guys are worried about f…….ing training? I sold them pretty quickly on that. That’s the kind of mood I was in. The four lads had no chance of getting off the hook with me.”
Towards the end of last year a good friend, Patricia Murphy, organised an online Zoom Interview with the four record-breaking athletes; Eamonn Coghlan, Marcus O’Sullivan Frank O’Mara and Ray Flynn, who were delighted to chat and remember that glorious night in Belfield. A big thank you is due to the four athletes and to Patricia Murphy who recorded and edited this recording, which I hope will also stand the test of time.