Thirty Years Ago, 1988, and Marcus O'Sullivan's Indoor Race Apex


image1.jpegMarcus O'Sullivan on the cover of TFN, the bible of the sport, from April 1988!

image2.jpegMarcus O'Sullivan with the author, Jeff Benjamin, photo courtesy of Jeff Benjamin

This story is an example of why our readers love Jeff Benjamin. A fan, a writer and a geek, Jeff provides our @runblogrun readers with an insiders view of our sport. In fact, in this story, you feel like you are a carbuncle on the shoulder of Marcus O'Sullivan (sorry, Marcus). There were not Go Pro cameras in 1988, but we all wanted to be there with Marcus and understand his thoughts and enjoy his amazing run!

Marcus O'Sullivan is a class act. The head coach at Villanova, my interactions with this man showed that, in the spirit of the late Jumbo Elliot, Marcus provides a thoughtful word and keen observational skill for his athletes.

We are most appreciative for Jeff Benjamin on this well timed article.

Apex -the top or highest point of something

Back in the heyday of NYC Indoor Track, Ray Lump's Vitalis Invitational meet was a regular stop for the athletics crowd. The meet, which took place on the Eamon Coghlin designed 10 laps to the Mile blue-wooden board track at the Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, was always held a week or two after the Millrose Games in Madison Square Garden with the Fairfax Mobil 1 Invitational from Virginia sandwiched between the two. After the Vitalis meet, the TAC (now USATF) Indoor Nationals would return to the Garden in NYC. Many diehards followed along in attending these 4 meets held close together to cheer on the athletes in hope of seeing dramatic performances.

The February 1988 Vitalis meet had no shortage of stars coming to run and jump. Gwen Torrence, Antonio McKay, Terry Brahm, Ray Brown, Butch Reynolds, Diane Dixon, Renaldo Nehemiah, Sammy Koskei, Earl Bell, Greg Foster, Joetta Clark, Jimmy Howard, Valerie Brisco, Tim Lewis, Brian Cooper, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Heike Drechsler, Yobes Ondeiki, Doina Melinte, Jim Spivey and Doug Padilla were among those who competed.

The crowd (including this writer) got into the 3000 indoor performance by Brian Abshire who dominated the field with an American record time of 7:41.57, besting a field which included Sebastian Coe, whose DNF in his first (and only) U.S. Indoor appearance towards the end of the race compounded an already challenging day to say the least for the Olympic Legend (a story to be told another time!).

But, for the 11,000 spectators on a February evening in 1988, NO ONE anticipated what was going to happen in the men's mile. Sure, Villanova alum Marcus O'Sullivan had won the Millrose Wanamaker a week earlier, surging strongly at the end to Run 3:56.89. Fan favorite Eamon Coghlin, the indoor world record holder who 5 years earlier became the first man under 3:50 (3:49.78) on that New Jersey track, had injured his back and served as the Honorary Race starter. But now, as the field lined up for the mile, Coghlin felt nervous. "I was always apprehensive that my Record could fall," said Coghlin who attended the 2018 Millrose Games last week in NYC.

Aside from O'Sullivan, Steve Scott, Jose Louis-Gonzalez and Peter Elliot led the Mile contingent. But Kieran Stack and Gerry O'Reilly would try and pace their friend and training mate O'Sullivan. "They agreed to pace me and Gerry really did me a favor," recalled O'Sullivan recently, with O'Reilly telling him that, "I'll take you through 1200 meters."

"My fall season consisted of aerobic work which built up my endurance," said O'Sullivan of his 3-month training sessions. "When I started my speed workouts they were going really well but it hadn't shown in my race performances yet."

As the pacesetters took the field out with O'Sullivan following in a quick 55.9 1/4 mile and then a 1:56.9 half, it looked as tough Elliot and Gonzalez were in stalk mode waiting for O'Sullivan to fall back. The American Scott was having one of his rare off-days. "Unfortunately I was way too far behind to tell you anything about the race!", said Scott recently.

Unknown to anyone, O'Sullivan was in like a caged animal, just waiting to let loose. "I was running into the back of O'Reilly," said O'Sullivan. "I felt like I was bumping into him."

At 1200, the crowd saw O'Reilly veer off leaving O'Sullivan to click off 2:54.8. The low key crowd started to sense something though not remarkable.

But then, O'Sullivan let loose! "I just catapulted into that last 400," said O'Sullivan, as he accelerated dynamically, awakening the shocked spectators. "When the crowd started getting loud I thought they were cheering for Gonzalez and that he might be closing in on me!"

The sudden cheering, however, jolted the Irishman even more, as O'Sullivan kept on accelerating. "I passed the 1500 meter mark and broke the indoor world record, but Howard Schmertz and the timers were so excited that they never stopped their watches...that split was 3:34 or 3:35."

All by himself, O'Sullivan just kept on going as the crowd just became louder and louder, as he then ran his last 1/4 in 56 seconds, his last 300 in 40 seconds, and crossed the line in 3:50.94, a second shy of Coghlin's world record, yet hearing the shocked crowd noise for him. Elliot finished 2nd in 3:53.70, while Gonzalez ran 3:55.0 for 3rd. Scott finished back in 4:00.43.


30 years later, the Villanova Coach looks back on that performance analytically."From a technical standpoint, it showed how important the aerobic phase of development was," said O'Sullivan, who went on to snatch officially the 1500 Indoor world record the following year. "I couldn't have done those speed workouts without that aerobic background."

That training background would lead O'Sullivan to a career of great successes. A 4-time Olympian, O'Sullivan would also become a 3-time World Championship Indoor Gold Medalist (1987, 1989, 1993) at the 1500 and add in a total of 6 Millrose Games Wanamaker Mile titles. A holder of 101 Sub-4 minute miles (#3 All-Time behind Steve Scott and John Walker), O'Sullivan is also part of the still-standing 4 X 1 Mile relay world record team which consists of fellow Irishmen Frank O'Mara, Ray Flynn and Coghlin.

But on that magical night 30 Years Ago, O'Sullivan was truly "In the Zone!"

"It was the easiest race I'd ever run." noted Marcus O'Sullivan.

Bell Lap

On Friday March 8, 2018, Coach O'Sullivan is hosting a "Day Of Distance Coaching Clinic" at Villanova.

Among the guests presenters attending include Championship High School Coaches Dave Marrington and Tim Mooney and International Track & Field Trainer Phil Wharton.

The keynote presenters alongside Coach O'Sullivan are former world-class distance runner and Head Coach of the 2015 NCAA XC Champions Syracuse University Orange Team Chris Fox, and 2-time World XC Champion And 3-time Olympic Running legend Craig Virgin.

For more information:

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