Coghlan Is Back on the Right Track : Missing the Olympics Was Disappointing, but Indoors Is Where He Sets His Records

Times Staff Writer

An indoor arena with tightly banked turns and an enthusiastic crowd is Eamonn Coghlan's phone booth.

Outdoors, he's just another world-class miler, but when he's running indoors, there's a startling, Clark Kent-like transformation.

The only man ever to run a sub-3:50 mile indoors, Coghlan is the world indoor mile record-holder at 3:49.78. Britain's Sebastian Coe holds the world outdoor record of 3:47.33, and Coghlan believes that Coe's record can be lowered--on an indoor track.

"The next milestone is to make the indoor mile faster than the outdoor mile," Coghlan said. "I think it's easier to run faster indoors than it is outdoors because of the banked turns and the catapult effect you have coming off the turns. It is easier to get your speed going and retain it than it is on an outdoor track.

"You get a centrifugal force on the banked turns and you can utilize it 22 times in a mile race (11 laps). And the crowd is right on top of you on the track, which is a great assistance."

Coghlan was inactive during the 1984 indoor and outdoor seasons due to a stress fracture in his right leg. It was a particularly distressing injury because it forced him out of last summer's Olympic Games. He was close to the action, though, as a track commentator for Irish television.

Now, Coghlan is back in Los Angeles. He'll compete against Steve Scott and John Walker, among others, Friday night in the Sunkist Invitational at the Sports Arena.

Scott, who is the second-fastest outdoor miler of all time at 3:47.69, and New Zealand's Walker, a former world record-holder in the mile, have been chasing Coghlan indoors for years.

Coghlan does the chasing when they race outdoors. His best outdoor mile time is 3:51.59, placing him 26th on the all-time list.

What is Coghlan's edge indoors? Why can't Scott, Walker and others catch him?

"Maybe it's because Scott deemphasizes the indoor season. Coe has never run indoors in the U.S., or (Steve) Cram, (Steve) Ovett and (Said) Aouita," Coghlan said. "Walker also has a tendency to dislike the boards, and he seems to crumble somewhat in regard to his mental approach to indoor running compared to outdoors."

"I'm just the opposite in terms of the mile. I prefer to run the mile indoors rather than outdoors. I get the same mental feeling for the 5,000 meters outdoors that I get for the mile indoors."

Coghlan has no ready explanation for his preference for the indoor mile over the outdoor.

"I don't really know," he said, "but maybe it's because I have quick acceleration which I can utilize much better on the shorter straightaways and tighter turns than I can on an outdoor track.

"Scott and Walker have better basic speed than I do and they can maintain it over a longer period on an outdoor track and beat me. I can get by them quickly, but it's harder for me to maintain my speed on outdoor tracks than it is indoors.

"I can handle the turns better indoors than Scott and Walker. When they try to move indoors, they hesitate on the turns and I don't. I can accelerate quickly on a short indoor straightaway and get by them. I have the ability to run the turn much better than anyone, and that's where I excel more than other runners indoors."

Coghlan tuned up for the Sunkist meet by running a slow 4:11.07 mile in Ottawa last Friday night. But he ran the last quarter in 54 seconds, so he's fit again.

"My goal for the indoor season is to win all the races and get back to where I was before I was hurt," Coghlan said. "It's too early to predict fast times. I need to get my confidence back in terms of beating Scott and Walker on a regular basis."

As for the outdoor season, Coghlan favors the 5,000 meters over the mile and will concentrate on that distance during the European summer season.

He won the 5,000 at the world championships at Helsinki, Finland, in 1983, and was primed to be a factor in the race at the Los Angeles Olympics before the stress fracture ended those hopes.

Coghlan has achieved acclaim on the American indoor circuit but supposed Irish luck has been all bad in Olympic years.

In 1976 at Montreal, he made a tactical error and finished fourth behind gold-medal winner Walker in the 1,500.

In 1980 at Moscow, he came down with a stomach virus that weakened him for the 5,000. He wound up fourth.

Although he turned 32 last month, he still is chasing that Olympic medal and plans to compete at Seoul in 1988.

"I plan on competing until I get tired of it," Coghlan said. "Hopefully, I can compete in the 1988 Olympics in the 5,000 and, or, the 10,000. In between now and then I take each season as it comes.

"If I get tired next year or the year after, I'll quit. But the enthusiasm is still very much there and so is the discipline to train. I don't see any reason why I can't be running when I'm 35 at the 1988 Olympic Games."

Coghlan said that he enjoyed his stint as a television commentator at the Olympics, adding that he was able to separate himself from the competition in terms of his disappointment of not being able to compete.

His commentary on the controversial Mary Decker-Zola Budd collision in the women's 3,000 meters was carried live to Ireland.

Coghlan said that he reported that Decker almost went down twice before she went careening into the infield--and out of the race.

"When Zola threw back her left foot, she knocked into Mary's forward stride and Mary literally went down like a karate chop," Coghlan said. "The incident could happen in any race, indoors or outdoors.

"I can honestly say that as inexperienced as Zola is in international competition, Mary showed as much inexperience on her part for where she was placed (too close) behind Zola.

"And I feel that Mary didn't protect herself when Zola was closing in tight on her. Normally you just literally push someone on the hip while your striding to protect yourself and the other runner will move away from you. I don't blame either Mary or Zola for what happened. Those things just happen if you're running in a crowd."

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