Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Cork's First Sub 4 minute mile - July 1974

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Cork's First Sub 4 minute mile - July 1974

The article below was written by John Walshe and appeared in the Evening Echo last Friday the 4th of July 2014. It is reprinted here with his kind permission.


(EVENING ECHO, July 4, 2014 by John Walshe)

At half-past-eight on Tuesday night, a hush will fall over the crowd at the CIT Athletics Stadium. It will signal the start of the Cork Airport men’s mile at the 63rd Cork City Sports and once again the four laps (pus nine metres) of the track promises to be a cracker.

Just a few weeks ago, Paul Robinson showed he can mix it with the best of the Africans and Americans when setting a new personal best of 3:54.77 at the famed Bislett Games in Oslo and he will be joined by an array of other top-class middle distance exponents.

This year of 2014 is, of course, a special year in that it marks the 60th anniversary of Roger Bannister’s historic first sub-four-minute-mile. But it’s also a significant milestone (if you pardon the pun) in the annuals of the Cork City Sports.

For on a July evening all of 40 years ago, John Hartnett achieved the same feat on the old grass track at the Mardyke, making it the first time the Cork public had witnessed such a performance.

Since then, a further 105 sub-fours have been achieved in Cork but, like Bannister’s momentous effort, the first to do is always recalled with awe. For Ballyhooly man Hartnett, that night was his third appearance at the City Sports.

In 1972 he had finished second to Ian Stewart in the 5,000m and the following year – having broken Ron Delany’s 15-year-old Irish mile record with a time of 3:54.7 at Eugene, Oregon - he failed by just seven tenths of a second to break four minutes at the Mardyke.

Hartnett at the time was on scholarship at Villanova University and he had started off the year of 1974 in brilliant fashion. On a Saturday night in January at the Knights of Columbus Games in New York he ran the fifth fastest time on record for two miles when covering the 22 indoor laps in 8:26.6.

He finished almost eight seconds ahead of Grant McLaren from Canada (8:34.4) with another Irishman, Neil Cusack, third in 8:37.2. Of course Cusack would go on three months later to win the Boston Marathon in an Irish record of 2:13:39.

Hartnett’s amazing form on the boards of North America continued the following month at the Maple Leaf Indoor Games in Toronto where, before a packed attendance of over 16,000 fans, he ran the first sub-four-minute indoor mile witnessed in Canada.

His 3:59.6 was achieved ahead of a glittering field which included the current and future Olympic 1500m champions, Pekka Vasala of Finland and John Walker from New Zealand.

Hartnett also won the NCAA indoor two-mile championship in a meet record of 8:33.6 and added the IC4A title over the same distance in a similar time of 8:33.2.

Before returning home for the summer, he added the Irish 1500m record to his list when clocking 3:38.1 at Bakersfield in California.

On that magical night at the Mardyke where a cold wind made conditions difficult, Hartnett was paced through the first lap of 57.1 by Tony O’Leary of Leevale. Tom Gregan and a young Eamonn Coghlan – both fellow students of Hartnett’s at Villanova – then took over with the halfway mark tracks passed in 1:57.5. When the bell was reached in 2:56.2, the crowd rose to the occasion and amidst the deafening cheers the man in the Grange AC singlet powered around the final circuit to cross the line in 3:56.3, still one of the fastest times achieved on a grass track.

Much like Bannister’s time ushered in a new era of miling, John Hartnett was also the pioneer of the world-class times that would be achieved over the distance at the Cork City Sports. Since that July evening 40 years ago, many of the world’s finest have taken on the distance at both the Mardyke and CIT tracks with fastest of 3:49.42 standing to Sydney Maree of the USA from 1982.

Former Olympian Donie Walsh of Leevale AC unveiling a commemorative plaque in Ballyhooly in 2010

Hartnett is still remembered with affection in his native village of Ballyhooly where for the past number of years a 10km road race has been held in his honour every


This year’s race takes place on August 10th and two years ago the village’s most famous son – who now resides in New Jersey – was on hand to start the race and present the prizes, as well as reminisce with his many admirers on what was a remarkable and honour-laden career.

1) Another article on John Hartnett can be found HERE

1 comment:

ken flanders said...

I finished 6th in the 1974 1c4a indoor two mile at Princeton which John won. attended Northeastern Univ. in Boston---was not aware of John's feat in Ireland til today--09/12/2014. an over due Congrats, John, for a job well done.
Ken Flanders
Portland, Maine