Leopardstown will spur
success in Dublin
Chris Turner for the IAAF
21 March 2002 - Dublin’s Leopardstown racecourse, which will host the IAAF/Sport Ireland World Cross Country Championships this weekend, is more than eager to welcome the world’s best distance runners, as due to matters beyond it’s control, namely the major foot and mouth outbreak in the British Isles, the 29th edition of the championships had to be cancelled.
Last year’s championships were of course saved, when in an amazing feat of organisation the Belgium port of Ostend, at the last minute played host to this annual festival of running.
The Leopardstown course, which rests in the heart of the Irish capital city’s suburban belt, was completed in 1888. The architect was a Captain George Quin, who used as his model, England’s equally famous Sandown racecourse. Since it’s purchase by The Racing Board in 1967, which saved the track from being redeveloped, it has been continuously upgraded and developed to become one of the premier race venues in Europe, in terms of both the quality of horse racing and its facilities.
The official course history states that the track has witnessed an “infinite roll of both equine and human legends which have thrilled Leopardstown racegoers over the years.” Famous names abound. Thoroughbred horses such as Arkle, Dawn Run, Levmoss and Nijinsky, and jockey’s including Dr. M.V. O'Brien, Tom Dreaper, Pat Taaffe and Pat Eddery, are just a few of those who have graced the track during it’s long history.
The Irish have a love affair with everything equine but this weekend the stars will be entirely two footed, the human thoroughbreds providing their own impulsion around the various World championship courses, men’s or women’s, long or short, senior or junior.
Ireland’s athletics tradition is deeply imbedded, with one of the earliest series of organised competitions in Europe dating back as far as 1857, held under the auspices of Dublin’s Trinity College. A century later, Dublin saw a famous World record (3:54.5) in the men’s mile by Australia’s unbeatable Herb Elliott in 1958. Then in 1980, the city successfully hosted the IAAF Women’s 15km road race, a championship which is now discontinued.
In the annals of Irish running who can forget Dublin’s own ‘Chairman of the Boards’ Eamonn Coghlan, who was at the height of his powers with his World Indoor Mile record (3:49.78) and when winning the inaugural IAAF World 5000 metres championships gold in Helsinki in 1983.
Yet if we are going to specifically talk about Irish cross country history, we should look no further than Coghlan’s contemporary John Treacy, the 1984 Olympic marathon silver medallist, who won two World Cross Country gold medals in the 1970’s. The first win came in Glasgow in 1978, a title, which he retained the following year on ‘home soil’ in Limerick.
More recently still, Ireland’s World Cross Country hopes were so nearly fulfilled on four occasions when Catherina McKiernan, no slouch at the marathon (2:22:23) herself, narrowly missed the title, settling for the silver medal in 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995!
The present heroine of Irish running continues to be Sonia O’Sullivan, the 1995 World 5000m track champion, who famously won the short and long course golden double at the 1998 World Cross Country Championships in Marrakech, before winning the European 5000m and 10,000m titles that summer in Budapest.
O’Sullivan, after giving birth to her second daughter Sophie at the end of December last year, is already back running and remarkably will contest the short course championship this weekend in Dublin.
O’Sullivan’s decision to compete will certainly ensure a large crowd of spectators at Leopardstown, which when mixed with a traditionally warm Irish welcome, should guarantee that Dublin hosts a successful Championships.