Track and Field legends at last year’s NYRR Millrose Games (l-r) Jim Ryun, Eamonn Coghlan and Ray Flynn. Photo by John Nepolitan.
By Ray O’Hanlon
Even if the list of competitors is not chock-a-block with Irish names there will always be an Irish air about the Millrose Games which are set for Saturday, February 9 at the Armory in Washington Heights, Manhattan.
For one thing the Meet Director this year, as he has been for a number of years now, is legendary Irish middle distance runner and Longford native, Ray Flynn.
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“This is the 112th Millrose Games and the eighth Millrose meet at the Armory. It’s a big deal,” Flynn told the Echo.
A big deal indeed.
“And if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that the Armory is an incredible venue, especially for the kids,” Flynn said.
The New York Road Runners Millrose Games did indeed move, in 2012, from the much larger Madison Square Garden to the cozier confines of the uptown Armory.
The effect, however, was a positive in that the Armory is filled to the rafters with 5,000 cheering track and field fans. 400 extra seats have been squeezed in for Saturday’s meet.
One of those cheering will be, of course, Eamonn Coghlan, the “Chairman of the Boards.”
Coghlan and Flynn are but two Irish middle distance veterans who remind track fans of a golden era in Irish middle distance running, that being the 1980s.
Coghlan is the holder of seven Wanamaker Mile titles and holds, among many other titles and laurels, a World 5000 Meter championship gold medal.
Ray Flynn has 89 sub 4-minute miles under his belt and is both the Irish Mile Record holder (3:49.77) and Irish 1,500m Record holder (3:33.5). Both records were broken in the same race in 1982 in Oslo in the Bislett Games Dream Mile.
Flynn, was an All-American in track and field and cross country at East Tennessee State, where his team in 1975 captured the NCAA Track and Field Championship.
Now 62, Flynn currently works as an agent for track and field athletes and is based in Johnson City, Tennessee.
Millrose is unique in that Olympians, as well as other elite professional, college, high school and youth track and field competitors, line up for the various events.
This year, two lucky Sligo kids will get to rub shoulders with some of the best athletes in the world by racing in the “Fastest Kid on the Block” competition.
Alice Belo and Shane Haran will be representing their county and Ireland.
In Sligo, the Fastest Feet program is being used every year to introduce kids to sport, specifically athletics. The man backing the program is Galway’s Richard Donovan who is also behind the World Marathon Challenge, the North Pole Marathon, the Volcano Marathon and other epic global sporting events.
The Armory being indoors, Alice and Shane need not worry about a return of the Polar Vortex.
No fewer than 32 Olympians are included in this year’s Millrose roster. There are Irish names evident, but they belong to athletes from the U.S., Canada, Australia and indeed Antigua & Barbuda.
So apart from Alice and Shane, where are the Irish?
Ray Flynn explains.
“One of the big things that has changed is that we all would come over here to the U.S. for college. But now athletes are staying in Ireland because they are getting scholarships there.”
Flynn is not entirely of the view that this is an absolutely positive development.
Ireland, he believes, is too small an arena for top flight young athletic stars and while many positive things have developed there he contends that there is nothing to compare with being an NCAA athlete in the United States.
“We didn’t have the option to stay in Ireland,” he acknowledges, referring to the likes of himself, Coghlan, and Marcus O’Sullivan.
But what those Irish runners who did move to the U.S. were able to subsequently achieve on the world stage is evident in the record books.
Which of course brings it all back to that golden time when Irish middle distance runners such as Ray Flynn could compete with anyone from anywhere, indoors and out.
Ray Flynn’s competitive days are behind him. But not running. Shortly before speaking with the Echo he completed his daily run, this time around the Reservoir in Manhattan’s Central Park.
Once you start running it’s all but impossible to stop.
And Ray Flynn doesn’t want to stop, literally running, or running the Millrose Games.
The Games run from 11.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 9 and, for a third consecutive year, will be broadcast nationally on NBC Sports from 4 to 6 p.m. More at www.nyrrmillrosegames.org.