Marcus O'Sullivan could not have been more rested as he toed the starting line for the Wanamaker Mile at the Millrose Games in New York last Friday night. "I've been sleeping like a baby all week," he said later. "Getting 10 hours every night."
That was a bad sign. Behind his impish grin and quick wit, O'Sullivan, 28, is a serious man, a husband and father who completed Villanova's MBA program in December with a 3.6 grade point average. Insomnia has always been a good gauge of his intensity, and normally he never loses more sleep than he does in the days leading up to the Millrose, the premier meet of the American indoor season.
Why, then, the big sleep this year? O'Sullivan says he may have been emotionally fiat after finally proving himself to be an outstanding outdoor miler last year. The winner of world indoor titles at 1,500 meters in 1987 and '89, plus three of the last four Wanamaker Miles, O'Sullivan found it hard to get up for this year's Millrose—until two days before the meet, when he got a call from its director, Howard Schmertz, at his Havertown, Pa., home. "Marcus, I've got a surprise for you," Schmertz said. "Eamonn is in the mile."
For some, Schmertz's news might have been one of life's mixed surprises, along the lines of "Congratulations, it's triplets." But for O'Sullivan it was a welcome spur. "My blood started flowing faster," he says.
February 12, 1990
Eamonn, of course, is Eamonn Coghlan, O'Sullivan's countryman from Ireland and fellow Villanova alumnus, holder of the world indoor mark (3:49.78) for the mile and winner of a record seven Wanamaker Miles. Having been plagued by injuries for two years, Coghlan, now 37, effectively retired last summer. He began to run again last fall, initially for fun and fitness, but he soon began thinking of—and training for—competition. He won the 3,000 at a Grand Prix indoor meet in Hamilton, Ont., on Jan. 12. Eight days later he finished a poor third in an indoor mile in Portland, Ore., with a time of 4:02.78, but such has been Coghlan's mastery of the indoor mile that no one was absolutely sure that O'Sullivan could stave off Coghlan's comeback.
Over the last few years Coghlan's crown as king of the indoor mile has come to fit quite snugly on O'Sullivan's head. And no one knows Coghlan's mystique better than O'Sullivan. When O'Sullivan was growing up in Cork City, Coghlan was his idol. Though the two are close friends, O'Sullivan makes no secret of hoping to at least equal Coghlan's seven Wanamaker wins.
While Coghlan's level of fitness was the meet's great mystery, there was no doubting the physical condition of Joetta Clark, winner of the women's 800 meters. Clark, 27, who was double-teamed by East Germany's Sigrun Wodars and Christine Wachtel, the Olympic gold and silver medalists, respectively, led from start to finish, hitting the tape in 2:02.16, four yards ahead of Wachtel. Her dad, Joe Clark, the former Paterson, N.J., high school principal who gained national attention as a stern disciplinarian, was in the stands and must have admired her control.
Butch Reynolds, the world outdoor record holder at 400 meters, faced a problem in the 600-yard run. "I've never had anyone count laps to me before," he said of the 3¾-lap race. "That kind of plays with your mind."
Indeed, after grabbing the lead at the start, Reynolds seemed to lose his concentration in midrace, allowing Danny Harris to build a four-yard cushion going into the final lap. However, for once the 6'3" Reynolds looked comfortable on the tight, banked curves of an indoor track. He gained on Harris with every long stride off the final turn. They dived at the tape in unison. Thirty minutes later, the photo revealed Reynolds to be the winner. 1:09.22 to 1:09.27.
In his showdown with Coghlan, O'Sullivan's strategy was simple: make the pace hard. "It's not good to have Eamonn around with a lap to go," said O'Sullivan. "Why set yourself up?"
At the gun Coghlan fell into line behind the pacemaker, Jama Aden, and Sydney Maree. The rabbit was moving fast enough—or so O'Sullivan thought. Sitting comfortably in fifth place, O'Sullivan heard 57 seconds at the 440. Surely, he thought, that was sufficient to dull Coghlan's kick.
But that split turned out to be wrong, as O'Sullivan discovered at the half. "I heard 2:01," said O'Sullivan. "I knew we hadn't run a 64 [for the second quarter-mile]. I started to panic. I thought. This is going to be a blistering finish."
With four of the 11 laps to go, O'Sullivan translated panic into action. He swept to the outside and overtook Coghlan and Maree. Aden dropped out, and O'Sullivan led at the three-quarter mark, in 3:03. He was lucky to be in front. "I could feel it getting rough back there," he said. Indeed, Jens-Peter Her-old of East Germany cut Coghlan off and received a sharp shove for it.
"Herold was hitting everyone," said Joe Falcon, who started well back. "He about drilled Eamonn off the track."
Only when O'Sullivan surged on the penultimate backstretch did it become clear that Coghlan was out of the race. Herold and Falcon pursued O'Sullivan, but to no avail. He ran scared to the tape. He reached it in a lackluster 3:59.35 and exhaled deeply. "That was a sigh of relief," he said. "In the past five years, this was the most unfit I've been for this race."
Herold crossed the line in 3:59.59, inches ahead of Falcon, who was third. Coghlan was fifth in 4:01.83. "It was youth over age," he said. "My ambition is probably bigger than my condition."
"It's not age that's a factor," said O'Sullivan of Coghlan. "It's that Eamonn missed the last two seasons. He might be better next year."
Coghlan spoke of the tradition of which he and O'Sullivan are a part: "Perhaps what inspired Marcus is what I achieved and what [Ireland's 1956 Olympic champion Ron] Delany achieved. In Ireland we had heroes, and. I think that's what's missing here in the U.S. [where track and field is in a slump]. The kids don't have people to look up to like I had."
They have a good one in O'Sullivan. After the race he returned to his hotel, where he tossed and turned until drifting off at 5:30 in the morning. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.