Cork City Sports flashback: 1985 event saw 20 Olympians grace the Mardyke

Cork City Sports flashback: 1985 event saw 20 Olympians grace the Mardyke
Sydney Maree leading John Walker in the 1985 Cork City Sports at the Mardyke.

THE American Trophy — now known as the John O’Jagoe Memorial Trophy — goes to the Athlete of the Meet at the Cork City Sports and back in 1985 it was certainly hotly contested.

A feast of athletics saw 20 Olympians (including two gold medallists) grace the hallowed Mardyke on the Tuesday evening of July 9.

But for many of the estimated 11,000 attendance, it was just one athlete they had come to see.

Mary Decker-Slaney had been unquestionably one of the biggest draws in global athletics since her early teens.

She was already recognized as a world-class runner at the age of 14 when, as the pigtailed ‘Little Mary Decker’, she won international acclaim with a win in the 800 metres at the hotly-contested US-USSR dual meet in Minsk.

She had already set a world age record of 2:12.7 for 880 yards at age 12, the same year that she had completed a marathon in a time of 3:09:43.

After overcoming a litany of injuries before she was 20 – no doubt brought on by her excessive training and racing - Decker set six world records at distances ranging from the mile to 10,000m and at one stage was the holder of every American record from 800 meters up to 10,000 metres.

Mary Decker-Slaney USA at Cork City Sport July 1985
Mary Decker-Slaney USA at Cork City Sport July 1985

In 1983 she had won both the 1500m and 3000m at the inaugural World Championships in Helsinki but at the following year’s Los Angles Olympics, her showdown with South African-born Zola Budd ended in heartache.

The barefoot Budd, who had controversially declared for Great Britain so as to be eligible for the Olympics, collided with Decker midway through the race.

With both runners tumbling to the track, it left Maricica Puica of Romania in the clear to claim the gold medal.

A number of major meets were on Decker-Slaney’s schedule for the summer of 1985, including a rematch with Budd at the Talbot Games in London a few weeks after Cork.

Therefore, her appearance at the Mardyke over 800 metres was seen as a vital part of her preparation.

Her main opposition came from the new UK record holder, Kirsty McDermott, and the race certainly lived up to expectations.

The 24-year-old Decker-Slaney won an exciting contest in a time of 1:57.68, which, 35 years later, still stands as the City Sports meet record.

McDermott clocked 1:57.88 with Ireland’s Caroline O’Shea just outside the two minutes, her time of 2:00:78 remaining the third fastest by an Irishwoman to this day.

“I sensed she [McDermott] was there and I could not be sure if she actually passed me,” said Decker-Slaney afterwards, adding “I almost ran a personal best and this was just the type of race I needed at this point.”

The men’s mile was another loaded event with all eyes on Cork’s own Marcus O’Sullivan.

But it was his former Villanova team-mate Sydney Maree who took the honours in 3:52.14, the fastest time in world up to that stage of the season.

The 23-year-old Turner’s Cross man ran a personal best of 3:52.64 in second, just losing out after a fascinating duel over the closing stages.

“I thought I was going to win at 200 metres and I thought again at 100 metres that I was going to win but Sydney is phenomenally strong,” admitted the Leevale athlete afterwards.

The 1976 Olympic 1500m champion John Walker could only manage third in 3:53.20 with Frank O’Meara from Limerick fourth in 3:55.92.

Young DCH athlete Enda Fitzpatrick joined the sub-four-minute club with an excellent 3:56.36 for sixth place.

Another of Ireland’s world class milers of the time - Longford’s Ray Flynn, who still holds the Irish record at 3:49.77 – wisely chose to run the 5000 metres which he easily won in a time of 13:31.41.

“I came here to win and I am happy that I did that. I felt very strong and the pace was always comfortable compared to mile pace,” said Flynn, now one of the most influential athletes’ agents on the circuit.

The class of those behind him show the quality which graced the Mardyke track on that July evening.

Mike McLeod, the Olympic 10,000m silver-medallist, was second in 13:33.23, Tim Hutchings third in 13:33.60 with the Irish hero of the previous year’s Olympics, John Treacy, having to settle for fourth in 13:35.02.

Just two hundredths of a second separated Johnny Gray and John Marshall at the end of a thrilling 800m. Gray, from the Santa Monica Track Club, led through the first lap in 51 seconds before withstanding a late charge from Villanova athlete Marshall to win in 1:45.56.

Like Decker-Slaney’s time, this still remains as the Cork City Sports meet record.

‘Elvis on song’ certainly made for a good headline as Elvis Forde from Barbados took the 400m in 45.7 while in the open one lap event Paul O’Regan from Leevale set a new Irish junior record when winning in a time of 47.66.

After the world record for the hammer was surpassed six times the previous year at the Mardyke, the appearance of double Olympic gold-medallist Yuri Sedykh was once again eagerly awaited.

Still holder of the world best at 86.34m, Sedykh had already thrown 81.80m in Rome, improving that to 82.53m in his second outing of the season.

But without his countryman Sergey Litvinov (former world record holder) to spur him on as he had 12 months before, Sedykh had to settle for a best of 81.46m in Cork.

There was an exciting battle for the minor places where Ireland’s Declan Hegarty produced a second round throw of 76.22m and rounded off the evening with 76.40m to defeat UK champion David Smith who recorded 73.90m on his second attempt.

With national champion Sean Egan having a seasonal best of 68.10m in fourth and junior Gary Halpin finishing fifth in 61.74m, the Cork fans had, for the second year, been treated to a feast of hammer throwing.

Another well-received local performance came in the open mile where Liam O’Brien – as he did 10 years before over 800m – once again delivered the goods when winning in the impressive time of 4:03.78.

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