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Forum Track : O'Sullivan Is Going After More Than Mile Win

February 19, 1988|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

Ireland's Eamonn Coghlan is acknowledged as the Chairman of the Boards, but temporarily, at least, he has relinquished the gavel to another Irishman.

The Irish take to indoor running like the Swiss do to Alpine skiing.

With Coghlan injured, Marcus O'Sullivan, from County Cork in Ireland, is the indoor miler of the moment and most likely for the immediate future.

O'Sullivan has been a winning miler in recent years, but Coghlan's world indoor record of 3 minutes 49.78 seconds seemed secure.

Not anymore.

O'Sullivan, who had a previous best time of 3:56.05, blazed around the Meadowlands Arena track in 3:50.94 last Saturday night in the United States Olympic Invitational meet.

Only Coghlan has run faster indoors, his world record and a 3:50.6 mile.

O'Sullivan, a graduate student at Villanova, who will run the mile in The Times/GTE indoor games tonight at the Forum, reasons that he has broken a barrier.

"To run 3:50 was somewhat of a surprise," O'Sullivan said. "If I had known it was going to be that easy, I would have tried harder earlier on in the race.

"The pace definitely slowed down. It went out pretty quick for the first quarter, then it slowed for the half--1:55 for the leader. For me to run a 55-second last quarter was pretty good. I wouldn't have perceived I could run 55 off a 2:55 (three-quarters) pace.

"I probably went into another barrier, knowing I can go that fast now. It has wiped clean the slate of doubt in my mind. And once you do it, you look back and say how easy it was."

O'Sullivan's time raised some eyebrows. Milers usually progress in fractions of seconds. He lopped five seconds off his previous best time.

"I've never really gone for a (fast) time, just to win," O'Sullivan said. "Since 1986, Coghlan is the only one to beat me in an indoor mile, and he did it twice.

"I've just done enough to win and no more, and I think to a certain extent that led a lot of people to believe that I was overestimated in my ability. You know, fields not tough enough, or whatever.

"Now I think I've proved I've been genuine over the past two or three years."

The Meadowlands track is exceptionally fast, 10 laps to the mile instead of the standard 11 (such as the Forum boards).

Nonetheless, O'Sullivan, a two-time winner of The Times mile, expects a fast time tonight, and the meet record of 3:54 held by Ireland's Ray Flynn may be in jeopardy.

In the field tonight with O'Sullivan are Britain's Peter Elliott, Somalia's Abde Bile, Jim Spivey and Ireland's Gerry O'Reilly.

Elliott set a national record of 3:53.7, behind O'Sullivan at the Meadowlands. Bile is the 1,500-meter world champion, and Spivey finished third in the world championships at Rome last September.

Coghlan, who has been inactive during the indoor season with a back injury, was the starter for the mile race at the Meadowlands.

"We talked afterward, and he expressed concern for a while," O'Sullivan said. "I think he was glad I didn't break his record. If I was in the same position, I'd feel the same way."

O'Sullivan, 26, has continued the Irish-Villanova connection that began with Ron Delany, before the baton was figuratively passed to Coghlan.

"I didn't know Eamonn before I went to Villanova, but I knew of him and that was an influence," O'Sullivan said. "But Donald Walsh, who graduated from Villanova in 1972, was a Cork man. He was my coach as a high schooler, so he was one of my biggest influences."

O'Sullivan and Coghlan have something else in common. Neither has been as successful outdoors as he has been indoors.

O'Sullivan's best outdoor mile is 3:52.7, and he was eliminated in the semifinals of the 1,500 in the World Championships last year.

O'Sullivan plans to run in the USA/Mobil indoor championships next Friday in New York before taking a two- or three-week break from training.

"With the Olympics being so late (late September and early October), I'll start from scratch and build right back up," he said. "If you were to tell me I had to be in shape for July, I couldn't be in shape. But if you say September, or October, it gives you enough time to develop the appetite, and it gives you time to go back to scratch in training. The key is to be in shape in September, not July."

O'Sullivan is pursuing a master's degree in business administration at Villanova, and his schedule during the indoor season is hectic. He is traveling and running on the weekends and then must make up class work when he returns to Philadelphia.

He said he got minimal sleep last weekend after running Saturday night in East Rutherford, N.J., and again, in an 800 race, in Fairfax, Va., Sunday night.

O'Sullivan has been trying to catch up on his rest during the past week and is now looking at the mile from a different perspective. He knows a sub-3:50 indoor mile is attainable.

"There's no doubt in my mind," he said. "Even if I never do it, I know now I can do it."

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