Yesterday's News: Little guy in the black shorts

Yesterday's News: Little guy in the black shorts

Marcus O’Sullivan with team-mate, Anthony Neff, after a race and right, before the start of a cross-country race in Rochestown in 1975.

SEE him on right, 11 visible on his race number, in the middle of my photograph taken before the start of the South Munster Colleges Cross-Country race at Rochestown in 1975?

Well, there’s nothing very special about him, is there? He’s certainly the smallest guy on our team (Coláiste Chríost Rí) that day: in fact, he was probably the smallest runner in the field.

See him again, below, half way through the race and he’s leading out the other guys on the team — all nicely bunched together as a good cross-country team should. They’re not leading the individual race but they’re far enough up the field to challenge for team honours. In fact, we won the team event that day and the little guy led the way home.

Marcus O’Sullivan was to lead more that one Chríost Rí team to victory in his five years with us in the school So you could say that he was a handy juvenile runner – (a typical Cork way of damming with faint praise) but without any great prospects as a senior athlete.damming with faint praise) but without any great prospects as a senior athlete.

You could say that, but you would be sooo wrong!sooo wrong!

Marcus O’Sullivan leading out his team-mates during the race in Rochestown in 1975.
Marcus O’Sullivan leading out his team-mates during the race in Rochestown in 1975.

Shortly after leaving school Marcus took a notion that he might try his luck in the collegiate athletic scene in America and followed the path, well-trodden by Irish athletes, Ronnie Delaney, Eamonn Coughlan, Sonia O’Sullivan and many others, to Villanova University in Pennsylvania, USA.

Whatever it was about the USA — and Villanova, in particular — he took to the place like a duck takes to water. As a schoolboy he was small in stature and shy, reticent even, but in Villanova he blossomed physically, mentally and competitively and in a short few years he was transformed into one of the top collegiate athletes in the USA before, finally, bursting on to the world stage in the 1980s and ‘90s.

His list of achievements on that stage is truly staggering: The following is just a sample

Four time Olympian for Ireland in 1984, ’88, ’92 & ‘96

Three time World Indoor 1500m Champion: 1987 (Indianapolis), ’89 (Budapest) & ’93 (Toronto)

Five time winner of the famous Wanamaker Mile in Madison Square Garden’s Millrose Games: 1986, ’88, ’89, ’90, & ‘92

One of only three athletes ever to run over 100 sub 4-minute miles. (The others are Steve Scott (USA) & John Walker (New Zealand).

Holds the still-standing world record for the 4xmile relay with Irish runners Ray Flynn, Eamonn Coughlan and Frank O’Mara. (In Dublin in 1985. Time: 15:49.08)

Marcus came back to Coláiste Chríost Rí in 1989 after his second world title victory in Budapest and one of the few regrets I have in my 33 years in the school is that we didn’t record in some way the impromptu address he gave to the boys assembled in the school hall that morning. Speaking without notes – just straight from the heart — he gave a beautifully crafted and inspirational talk to some 500 teenagers who hung on every word.

Marcus O’Sullivan leading out his team-mates during the race in Rochestown in 1975.
Marcus O’Sullivan leading out his team-mates during the race in Rochestown in 1975.

After all, Marcus was from just down the road in Turner’s Cross, yet here he was now among us again, a World Champion!

Marcus O’Sullivan is still in Villanova today but now he’s in his 17th year as Head Coach of the Athletics & Cross Country Teams in that most storied university in the history of collegiate sports in the USA.

Not only is he a coach to the university’s current student-athletes but he is also in a unique position as Steward of the program’s incredible history. The little guy in the black shorts has come a long way from that day in Rochestown in 1975!

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