Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: 1953...The day the Cork City Sports included a road race

Monday, July 16, 2012

1953...The day the Cork City Sports included a road race

With the Cork City Sports coming up at the CIT grounds on Tuesday evening, it might be time to have a look back at some of the history of the event. The following article was written by John Walshe and appeared in the Evening Echo.


The date was Tuesday July 7, 1953, when the Cork City Sports took place at the GAA Grounds at the Mardyke, under the laws of the NACAI. All the track races were over the imperial distances and ranged from a 220 yards youths sprint up to the 880 yards (or half-mile). The only metric distance on the programme was the 1500m Irish senior championship.

Cycling races, then a huge attraction at the grass track meetings, included the two miles Irish championship and a three miles open handicap. But there is one event which stands out from that July evening all of 59 years ago and which took place for the one and only time at a Cork City Sports - an eight mile road race.

It started at the Grand Parade Monument before proceeding out Washington Street and the Western Road, then out the Carrigrohane Straight before turning right onto the Lee Road, past St Josephs Hospital at six miles and the Mental Hospital to finish back at the Gaelic Grounds in the Mardyke.

Nowadays, giving the popularity of road running, numbers in excess of 600 are not unusual for an evening race but on that occasion just 13 runners toed the line at the Grand Parade. It was a handicap race, with most of that small field starting off two to two-and-a-half minutes ahead of the scratch man, Joe West of the Rising Sun club. The nearest to him at the start was Johnny Harte from Carrigtwiohill who had just a one-minute handicap.

Joe West is one of the forgotten men of Irish athletics. He was born and reared in Carrigaline and started off his career with the local Owenabui club, winning the Cork senior cross-title on three occasions. In 1947, he emigrated to England and joined Coventry Godiva Harriers. While across the water, he won several road races and also gained honours at regional and national level with the famous Godiva Harriers.

In 1952, he was invited back to Dublin to take part in the marathon trial for that year’s Olympic Games in Helsinki. Never having run further than 15 miles, he duly won the race and followed that up with an 11th place in the historic Polytechnic marathon from Windsor to Chiswick, recording a time of 2:32.

At the Olympics in Helsinki, West gallantly completed the distance in a time of 2:56:22, finishing in 49th place in a race famously won by Emil Zatopek who had already taken the gold medals in both the 5000m and 10,000m on the track.

And so, on that July evening almost 60 years ago, the large attendance at the Mardyke were able to witness one of their own, an Olympian marathoner, come into the Gaelic Grounds as winner of the eight-mile road race. West’s time was 45 minutes and 44 seconds and in second place was Ted Geary from Ballymore near Cobh with P Reid from Dowdallshill in third.

That Cork City Sports meeting was described as easily the most successful sports fixture seen in Munster for many years. A new Irish record of 14.8 seconds for the 120 yards hurdles was set by E F Kinsella from the St James Gate club in Dublin but the outstanding athlete of the evening was Finbarr Callanan of UCD who won the 100 yards, the long jump and finished second in the hurdles.

For his efforts, he was duly awarded the American Trophy which was presented to him by Mrs Taft, wife of the American Ambassador to Ireland, William H Taft.

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